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Residents cool to plan for second wind plant

A California developer proposing to build a second wind energy project near Kahuku got a chilly reception during a meeting with residents, some of whom said they were concerned about the facility’s proximity to schools and possible health effects from its wind turbines.

The 14-turbine project planned by Champlin GEI Wind Holdings would be built south of an existing 12-turbine project by First Wind that began operating in 2011. The proposed location of the Champlain facility would result in a neighborhood and several schools in the Kahuku Mauka area being hemmed in on three sides by wind turbines from the two projects.

Kahuku resident Kent Fonoimoana said that while he supported development of the First Wind project, he felt the latest proposal would result in the area being crowded with too many wind turbines.

“I supported the first wind project. I support renewable energy,” Fonoimoana said at the meeting Wednesday night in the Kahuku Village Association Community Center. “But in my opinion it’s irresponsible to surround the community on three sides by wind turbines.”

Fonoimoana was one of nearly a dozen Kahuku residents who spoke at the meeting, the majority of whom said they opposed the project.

Fonoimoana, a member of the Ko‘olauloa Neighborhood Board, which serves Kahuku, said a preliminary site plan Champlin published showed that at least one of the project’s turbines would be within 1,200 to 1,300 feet of Kahuku Elementary School.

A Champlin executive at the meeting responded that the turbine placements exceed the setback requirements of the city Department of Planning and Permitting.

The regulations require that the distance between a wind turbine and any structures be at least as far as the distance from the base of the turbine to the top of the blade at the apex of its rotation, said Michael Cutbirth, president of Champlin Windpower LLC, the parent of Champlin GEI Wind Holdings. Cutbirth said in the case of the turbines proposed for the facility, that distance is between 450 and 470 feet.

Champlin took over the project in 2009 from a developer that had proposed a smaller facility for the site. Champlin increased the number of proposed turbines to 14 from 10 and the generating capacity to 45 megawatts from 25. Kahuku resident Junior Primacio said he supported development of the facility, which has been named Na Pua Makani Wind Project. He said a community benefits package being offered by Champlin would help revitalize the Kahuku economy.

Cutbirth confirmed that Champlin would honor a pledge by the previous developer to donate $10,000 annually to the Kahuku community for each wind turbine constructed, or $140,000 per year for the 14 planned turbines. Community leaders would decide how to spend the money, Cutbirth said.

Fonoimoana and several other residents asked Cutbirth about possible adverse health effects cited by some opponents of wind energy projects. Those effects, sometimes referred to as wind turbine syndrome, include sleep disturbance, headaches, dizziness and fatigue.

“Healthwise, is this going to affect my grandchildren?” one audience member asked Cutbirth. “You say you don’t believe so. I want to know yes or no.”

Cutbirth said potential health effects, along with other impacts of the project, will be addressed in an environmental assessment being prepared for the project.