The political and economic winds are shifting for plans to build wind farms on Lanai and Molokai and ship the power to Oahu via undersea cable.
Castle & Cooke had once said it would build the entire Big Wind project on Lanai, putting about 140 giant wind turbines on thousands of acres. But Castle & Cooke owner David Murdock sold the island earlier this summer, and the 7,000 acres he has left for the wind project is too small for that many turbines.
And the Molokai wind farm, which some had written off, has new life with new leadership for the company that has long wanted to develop a wind farm there.
Big Wind – once envisioned as a 400-megawatt project split between the two islands – and the interisland cable system are expected to be discussed at the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo this week in Honolulu, where hundreds of business leaders and government officials from about 20 countries will convene for discussions on renewable energy.
The wind farms are taking on new urgency as Hawaiian Electric Co. moves closer to seeking proposals for ways to provide hundreds of megawatts of new power for the state.
On Lanai, Murdock sold about 98 percent of the island to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison this summer. He kept the rights to develop the wind farm but he only has access to 7,000 acres of land, according to a sales agreement recently filed with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. That’s less than half the acreage projected for the full 400-megawatt project, a 2010 environmental review of the project shows.
“A wind farm of up to 400-MW capacity may encompass an area of more than 15,000 acres to allow for terrain, turbine spacing, access, etc.,” according to the assessment prepared for the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Castle & Cooke currently has a contract with HECO to develop 200 mw of the Big Wind project on Lanai, which still has to be approved by state regulators. The PUC ordered the electric utility to put the other half of the Big Wind project, planned for Molokai, out for competitive bid last year after the original wind developer for Molokai, First Wind, missed a deadline to secure land for the project.
Developers can now pitch projects on other islands that can reach Oahu via an undersea cable, or on Oahu itself. The process is now open to other renewable sources of energy besides wind – geothermal, for instance, or solar.
But supporters of the Big Wind project have forged ahead, hopeful that the wind project will still beat out competing bids.
Castle & Cooke has made no secret of its intent to bid on the extra 200 megawatts. The company was disappointed last year when the PUC didn’t allow it to develop the entire project on Lanai, after negotiations with First Wind on Molokai broke down. HECO, with the support of Harry Saunders, vice president of Castle & Cooke, argued that an original agreement between the wind developers stipulated that if one of the projects fell through, than all 400 megawatts could be developed on one island.
Developing the entire project on Lanai would be cheaper and reduce the risk to investors, according to studies. Castle & Cooke would not have to count on the success of the Molokai wind farm, or any other potential project, in order for the Lanai project to move forward.
Carlton Ching, a spokesperson for Castle & Cooke, wouldn’t reveal details of the company’s plans.
“What we decide is still proprietary and we have no comments on our strategy,” he said.
But Castle & Cooke may face other snags, too. Parts of a community benefits package negotiated by the company, HECO and local residents could also be in jeopardy. Castle & Cooke had promised benefits such as maintaining workforce levels on Lanai and providing continued access to hunting grounds. The community benefits package was an important part of attracting community support for the project, though residents remain divided on the wind farm.
If Castle & Cooke can’t deliver on the benefits, it could raise serious issues with the contract it has with HECO for the 200-mw wind farm – which has already been submitted to the PUC for approval.
Rosegg said that the company was legally and contractually bound to deliver on the promises, but beyond this he couldn’t comment on the implications if the company can’t fulfill the terms.
“I really couldn’t speculate on what happens if this occurs or if that occurs,” he said.
Molokai Still Resistant But Wind Developer Moving Ahead
The wind farm on Lanai has attracted opposition from local groups, including Friends of Lanai and Lanaians for Sensible Growth. But it’s also progressed much more quickly than the Molokai project.
In addition to a community benefits package, Castle & Cooke has conducted wind studies and identified a 5,500 acre parcel of land in the northwest portion of the island where it hopes to build the wind turbines.
But on Molokai, progress has been slow.
There is no negotiated benefits package because First Wind, which worked on the Molokai wind farm for about four years, wasn’t able to secure land for the project, so it was premature to begin negotiating benefits, said Rosegg.
And Molokai Renewables, a joint venture between Bio-Logical Capital and Pattern Energy, which stepped in as the developer in March 2011 hasn’t gotten that far with the community. Molokai Ranch, which refused to negotiate with First Wind, has an agreement with Molokai Renewables to develop the wind farm on the ranch, the parties have said.
While there isn’t a benefits package in place, Molokai Renewables told Civil Beat that it would invest millions of dollars in the community to support its economic and cultural vitality.
“An additional direct benefit is that Molokai Renewables would commit to provide tens of millions of dollars to the local community that can be used by the community themselves to help fund education (e.g. – more schools and teachers), environmental and cultural activities (e.g. – water resource management, cultural programs), agriculture (e.g. – farm grants and training) and other initiatives that are important to the people of Moloka‘i,” Christian Hackett, a senior developer for Pattern Energy, said in an email.
Molokai Renewables also hasn’t conducted wind studies on the land to determine the level of the resource and says it has yet to decide where the turbines would be sited.
“We are still many years away from potentially building a wind farm, so precise locations for wind turbines have not been determined,” Hackett said in the email. “Ultimately, however, the final site will be selected by balancing several factors, including community preferences, environmental and cultural sensitivities, wind speeds and geotechnical factors.”
The company has applied for permits for wind monitoring equipment.
Molokai Renewables didn’t respond directly to a question about whether it had changed any minds on the island about the project. “We continue to listen to and learn from the Molokai community on how we can best approach this project so that there is a clear and measurable benefit to residents,” Hackett said.
But Walter Ritte, a longtime community activist on Molokai, who has remained open to the opportunity of a wind farm, said that the company hasn’t made any progress.
“It hasn’t gone anywhere,” he said of the project.
Ritte says there is no reason to support it.
“We haven’t heard one word about how this wind farm is going to benefit Molokai,” he said. “We have no idea how the future of Molokai is going to be better because we have this wind farm on our island. So it’s very easy to say let’s not have the wind turbines on our island.”
The company is getting new leadership, however. Guy Kaulukukui, a top state official recently left his job as deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources to head Bio-Logical Capital’s Hawaii operations. In addition to the Molokai wind farm and undersea cable project, the company is also interested in sustainable agriculture projects, and is seeking to buy Hana Ranch.
Kaulukukui has also been the director of the Kohala Center, a conservation organization on the Big Island. He was the first native Hawaiian vice president at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu and led its cultural studies division. He has a Ph.D. in economics education from the University of Kansas.
“Hopefully Guy can do something,” said Ritte. But he said that the conversation was going to have to change dramatically.
“Somebody is going to have to say something different and do something different to get Molokai to talk about this or even change its position, if that is possible,” he said.
Kaulukukui, whose first day on the job was Wednesday, said he didn’t know how the company might overcome resistance to the wind farm.
“I haven’t had the time to closely assess the basis for the well-chronicled resistance of some Molokai residents to wind energy,” he wrote in an email. “I’m looking forward to better understanding the dynamics of the situation, after which I will be able to give you a more meaningful answer.”
In the meantime, opposition to the wind farm appears to be growing more organized.
The West Molokai Association, a condominium development made up mostly of retirees and part-time residents, has joined forces with I Aloha Molokai to thwart the wind farm, according to Norman Rizk, chair of the group’s windmill committee.
“Most people bought into the serenity and lack of people on Molokai and desire to be on a Hawaiian Island that still had its previous attributes before overdevelopment,” he said.
A physician and professor at Stanford University, Rizk said that he has owned a condo on Molokai for about 13 years.
“My intention is to move there permanently,” he said. “And the thing that alarms me the most is that I’ve put a lot of emotional investment into being there and have a lot of friends there. And I don’t want to be pushed aside by noisy, oversized windmills. That is quite apart from my affinity for green energy.”
The association is creating a defense fund to fight the wind farm, according to the group’s website, and Rizk said members were already talking to lawyers about possible ways to stop it.
While resistance on Molokai has been stiff, Karen Holt, executive director of the Molokai Community Service Council, who has supported the wind farm in the past, said she thinks there is still an opportunity to gain community support for the project.
Since Molokai Renewables came in as the developer, the company hasn’t been very engaged with the community, she said. But a community benefits package could change things.
“Personally, I have always thought, and I still believe if the compensation to the island for keeping the land clear enough to put up windmills is adequate, then there is a very good chance that Molokai woud be willing to consider it,” she said.
“If that is part of what (Kaulukukui) is authorized to talk about, then I think he is going to have an audience that will listen.”
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