A company that previously lost a bid to build a North Shore wind farm is finally moving forward on an energy project after years of trying to convince Hawaiian Electric Co. to buy its power.
Champlin-GEI Wind Holding’s wind farm, named Na Pua Makani, could add 15 additional turbines to those already installed around Kahuku.
But since Champlin, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., lost its original 2008 bid, 42 towering wind turbines have been erected in an area of Oahu famous for big waves and rural lifestyles. Turbines from the new project, along with the existing wind farm, would hem the small town of Kahuku in on three sides.
Some residents say they’ve had enough. “Our view is: Kahuku has done its share to provide additional power for the rest of the island and it’s time for another community to step forward,” said Kent Fonoimoana, a board member of the Koolau Loa Neighborhood Board and a leader of the Defend Oahu Coalition. “We don’t want Kahuku to become the dumping ground for these industrial-sized (turbines).”
Boston-based First Wind built a 12-turbine wind farm in Kahuku in 2011 and the developer erected another 30 turbines a mile mauka of Kamehameha Highway, known as the Kawailoa wind farm, in 2012.
North Shore neighborhood boards originally supported the wind farms, which initially elicited little protest. But since they were built, some residents have grown weary of wind energy, especially the three turbines that First Wind placed in Waimea Valley.
“It was just thoughtless,” said Bill Quinlan, a North Shore Neighborhood Board member, who said the turbines desecrated a culturally significant site. “We definitely don’t want any more wind farms.”
A major fire at First Wind’s Kahuku site last year that destroyed its battery storage facility and sent toxic fumes spewing into the air has also tempered local support for wind energy. (The wind farm survived two previous fires.) Fifteen months after that fire, many of the giant turbines still sit idle – the wind farm is operating at less than 20 percent of its capacity. First Wind expects the wind farm to be fully restored by the end of this year, according to John Lamontagne, a company spokesman.
Amid mounting North Shore community concerns, First Wind announced last year that it would scrap plans to add five turbines to its Kahuku farm.
“They made it quite clear that they do not want to see more turbines in the Kahuku area,” First Wind spokesman Kekoa Kaluhiwa told KITV News last November after the Kahuku Community Association voted not to support the expansion.
So, when news broke earlier this month that a new developer was moving ahead with plans for 15 new turbines in Kahuku, some people were surprised, including officials from the state energy office who had neglected to list the project on its roster of planned renewable energy projects.
West Wind, the original developers of Na Pua Makani, was a losing bidder in HECO’s 2008 request for 100 megawatts of renewable energy for Oahu. The winning bidders were First Wind with its 69 megawatt Kawaialoa wind farm and Sunpower’s 5 megawatt energy project.
Na Pua Makani’s developers challenged the competitive bidding process before Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission, arguing that their wind project was significantly cheaper than the Kawailoa wind farm. That case dragged on for more than a year.
But the case was closed last month without any sort of ruling, according to PUC documents. And Michael Cutbirth, CEO of Champlin, told Civil Beat last week that HECO had agreed to a contract for the Na Pua Makani wind farm; the very farm that inspired the complaint.
Cutbirth said that electricity in his company’s bid was 25 percent less expensive than the energy being generated at First Wind’s Kawailoa wind farm.
HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said that he didn’t know the difference in pricing between the original wind farm bids, but that the current negotiated price for the Na Pua Makani wind farm is significantly lower than the initial bid, and that it is a “great price.”
While Champlin said his company is planning a 45-mw wind farm, with 15 wind turbines, Rosegg said that the current contract with the developer is for just 24 mw. Anything beyond that will have to be negotiated separately with HECO and approved by state regulators.
“The agreement reached between Hawaiian Electric and the developer of Na Pua Makani is the result of extensive contract negotiations and parallel study of interconnection requirements for the project,” he said by email. “This has taken some time and we’ve now reached an agreement that we believe is fair.”
HECO expects the developer to conduct public outreach with the surrounding community, Rosegg added.
The Na Pua Makani project hasn’t yet sparked the same level of anti-wind sentiment as previous projects. Opposition helped to stop a planned wind farm on Oahu’s leeward side in 2005 and a wind farm on Molokai this year, and left a Lanai wind farm teetering.
Barely a half-dozen residents showed up at a community meeting last week with the developer to air their opinions about the project. Most of them spoke out against it, but even that may change.
Tim Vandeveer, co-chair of Defend Oahu Coalition, said that the group intends to reach out to the community and contact around 4,000 supporters via email to ask them to submit comments on the project’s environmental impact statement.
He said the biggest concern was the proximity of the turbines to Kahuku High School. The wind turbines are “pretty much right on top of it,” Vandeveer said. “It’s out of control.”
But there is support for the project on the North Shore, which is home to many environmentally conscious residents.
Stuart Coleman, Hawaii coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, a local conservation organization, said he supported the wind farm. So did Kevin Kelly, a member of the Defend Oahu Coalition, who suggested that the organization might be split on the issue.
“Personally, I think it is a great project,” said Kelly. “I think everybody needs to pitch in to get to the renewable bottom line. Certainly there are complaints in certain neighborhoods, but I don’t think (wind energy) is being done irresponsibly.”
Cutbirth said that he understood not everyone in Kahuku wants another wind farm in their community, but he noted that there are few places on Oahu with both the needed infrastructure and wind resources.
“Whether people like turbines or not is a very subjective thing,” he said. “Some people like the way they look, some people don’t.”
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