Molokai Renewables wind developers planned to host an open-house discussion about the proposed wind turbines project last Tuesday, but community members interrupted their agenda. Taking bold steps to express their mana`o, anti-wind supporters of the Molokai group I Aloha Molokai (IAM) ignored informational posters sitting on tables, except to draw large red Xs through two.
“Cut the crap and get to the point,” IAM organizer Kanohowailuku Helm said as he stood up during Molokai Renewables’ introduction. He walked over to each of the developers in the audience, handing them Ziploc baggies filled with coins. “What’s it gonna cost you guys to leave us alone?”
The meeting at the Maunaloa Community Center was the first of three last week hosted by Molokai Renewables LLC, a group formed by alternative energy developer Pattern Energy and developer Bio-Logical Capital. Representatives meant to distribute information and gather community input on potential benefits packages in exchange for a proposed 200 megawatt (MW) wind farm on Molokai’s west end. The turbines would provide power to Oahu via an undersea cable to help the state reach its goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030.
Pattern has a lease agreement with Molokai Properties Ltd. (MPL), also known as Molokai Ranch, to use 11,000 acres of land should the project move forward.
Although Molokai Renewables hosted the meetings held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, IAM supporters often stole the show. They pointed to overwhelming local opposition to the project – including surveys conducted by resource management group `Aha Ki`ole and IAM that showed opposition among Molokai residents at 93 percent and 97 percent, respectively, and IAM’s increasing membership, which was more than 940 residents last week. They repeatedly asked the developers to pack up and go home.
“The fact of the matter is no one wants you,” Helm told project representatives Tuesday. “We don’t want you on our island. We don’t want your project.”
Molokai Renewables’ Goals
Developers planned to discuss potential benefits for the Molokai community during the meetings, according to Julie Witherspoon, manager of project strategies and acquisitions for Bio-Logical. Based on a percentage of their expected revenue, she said Molokai Renewables estimates Pattern would give about $1.5 to $2 million back to the community annually during their 20-year lease with MPL.
“We’ll give [the community] this much money to do X,” she said. “We want the community to tell us what X is.”
Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) Executive Vice President Robbie Alm attended the Wednesday meeting at the Mitchell Pauole Center. He said Molokai Renewables’ potential contract with HECO would likely include a minimum benefits package of four commitments discussed in a similar agreement with Lanai residents.
They include balancing Molokai and Oahu energy rates by dropping Molokai’s by 30 to 35 percent and increasing Oahu’s by less than 1 percent; making Molokai 100 percent renewable by 2020 through other energy programs; requesting a “Pay as You Save” program from the Public Utilities Commission to finance individuals’ solar energy projects; and fixing current grid issues on the island, which are the cause of a 15 percent cap on installation of renewable energy systems by home and business owners. A HECO-commissioned report is due in July to assess the latter problem, Alm said.
Delving into Dialogue
Many community members voiced their opposition, citing grave concerns about the project’s potential impacts on Molokai’s people and environment, and asked whether wind energy officials would listen to their opinions and put a stop to the project.
Although officials avoided a definitive response during the first two nights of meetings, Pattern’s Senior Developer Christian Hackett was more forthcoming Thursday at Kilohana Elementary School.
“We have no doubt that if the community does not support the project after we’ve gone through the process and provided the information and answered questions thoughtfully, this project won’t go forward,” he said. “Molokai residents have a history of successfully stopping projects that they don’t believe in, and that’s gonna happen here – if we don’t get community support for the project, the project won’t go forward.”
Still, Keiki-Pua Dancil, vice president of Hawaii Business Development and Strategy at Bio-Logical Capital, said developers are continuing the conversation and moving forward with baselines tests.
“There is a process we have to go through and part of that process is to meet with the community and ask the community how they feel, and that’s what we’re here to do,” she said.
Rancher Jimmy Duvauchelle, who delivered Tuesday’s pule with an IAM sticker on his shirt, said he was undecided and others might be, too.
“When sitting down under a mango tree with a local, talking heart to heart, [and] thinking with all the benefits … [this] may be the answer to our rough economy,” he said, adding that some community members are “not that kind of loud” in expressing their opinions. Some might be intimidated to support the project, he said.
Helm and most other community members at the meetings said there are no benefits worth allowing Molokai Renewables to move forward. IAM organizer Cora Schnackenberg lamented enabling what she called Oahu’s “addiction” to energy at the cost of Molokai’s future, and many called for decentralization of energy projects.
“If you know our culture, you should know what you’re asking of us,” she said Tuesday.
Dancil said Tuesday that developers are at the start of a long process, likening it to a marathon. If the finish line is deciding whether or not to do the project, she said, the group is still in training, with many studies on the environmental, cultural and social impacts of the proposal yet to begin. Avian studies examining bird flights have only just begun, she said, and the total list of studies needed is still to be determined.
Those tests would also determine how much energy would be lost en route to Oahu. Pattern provided estimates of 40 percent energy loss plus 5 percent lost during transmission. But IAM member Mike Bond, who worked in energy development for 30 years, said he doubted the turbines would achieve even 20 percent capacity.
Alm said HECO is not declining any renewable energy proposals that would help meet the state’s energy goals. Community input will be factored in during the permitting process, he said, pointing to estimates of about 70 permits and four Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) needed to give the project a green light.
“To me there’s a lot of permitting, and this thing could die along the way,” he said after Wednesday’s meeting. “But if they’re asking Hawaiian Electric [not to] say yes to anything because some people don’t like it, we can’t do that.”
He said Molokai residents should still discuss benefits in case those permits are granted.
Peter Nicholas, CEO of MPL, declined requests for comment last week.
More information about Molokai Renewables is available at www.patternenergy.com/molokairenewables or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about IAM is available at www.IAlohaMolokai.com or by e-mailing IAlohaMolokai@gmail.com.
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