State and federal regulators will meet Wednesday to discuss a Danish company’s plan to build 102 floating wind turbines off Oahu’s shores and generate about 30 percent of the island’s electric power needs.
At an Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force meeting, officials from the Hawaii State Energy Office and representatives from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will discuss Denmark-based Alpha Wind Energy’s proposal to build two wind projects for $1.6 billion.
AW Hawaii Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Alpha Wind Energy, submitted lease requests in January for the two facilities.
The Oahu South project, consisting of 51 wind turbines, is proposed to be located 17 miles south of Diamond Head. The 51 wind turbines of the Oahu Northwest project are proposed to be located 12 miles northwest of Kaena Point.
Each of the 102 turbines would have the capability to produce 8 megawatts. The total capacity for the two projects would be 816 megawatts, enough to provide about 30 percent of Oahu’s electric power needs. The energy would be sent to Oahu through undersea cables.
The Wednesday meeting will be used to look into the proposal and discuss environmental studies in Hawaii, as well as community concerns and BOEM’s intent to understand whether other companies are interested in the area, said Joan Barminski, regional supervisor of the Office of Strategic Resources BOEM Pacific Region.
Alpha Wind’s request to BOEM is the earliest step in a process, said BOEM spokesman John Romero. The review includes an environmental analysis as well as stakeholder and community engagement.
“This is very early on the process. Nothing has been permitted,” Romero said. “There are a lot of hoops that have to be met.”
The top of the turbines stand roughly 600 feet above their floating foundations, said Doug Boren, chief of the Renewable Energy section of BOEM Pacific Region.
“(They are) roughly the height of the Space Needle in Seattle,” Boren said.
Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, said some concerns include residents’ ability to see the turbines from the shore and the project’s effect on marine life.
“It is not clear what the visual impacts will be,” Curtis said.
From the proposed distances, the projects may be seen on the horizon, and BOEM is “developing some actual visuals of what a project like that will look like, Romero said.
Alpha Wind said the turbines will be visible from Waikiki, but that could be a good thing.
It’s a “positive if the project is regarded as a landmark and visual proof that Oahu is clean and green,” the company said in its lease application. “It is very likely the project will become a tourist attraction where tour boats will take tourists past the project to show the size and awe of the project.”
Another concern would be the noise affecting marine mammals’ communication, said Joe Mobley, a marine biologist and professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“When you are putting stuff out in the ocean, you are in their habitat,” Mobley said. “All the noise associated with building – you would want do something to minimize that.”
BOEM will work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Geological Survey to research the environmental impacts of the proposed wind projects, Romero said.
They will be “studying seafloor geology, marine mammals and seabirds to try to build up a baseline study of knowledge for us which will be relied on significantly as we move forward,” he said.
Alpha Wind said the highest risk to the sites is collision with large ships and hurricanes. The company said the turbines will be marked for sea navigation to prevent collisions. It also said it is studying the risk from hurricanes and believes the damage would be limited to “some blades” breaking.
Curtis said he questioned how cost effective the project would be due to the falling prices of solar panels.
“It is unclear, with the collapsing price of solar, how competitive the offshore site will be,” he said.
After the task force meeting, BOEM will publish a request for interest in the Federal Register to find out if other companies are interested in building wind energy technology in the areas Alpha Wind requested.
“The federal government has to determine whether there is competitive interest,” Romero said.
This request will also give the public the chance to share concerns about the project, Barminski said.
“It’s also a request for information,” Barminski said. “We will be asking the public for their concerns and any information they have about the areas.”
BOEM will have a better understanding of the project’s impact after the requests are filed, Boren said.
In February, BOEM ruled that AW Hawaii Wind is legally, financially and technically qualified to hold the lease.
Alpha Wind’s interest in Hawaii started in 2005 with wind developments on Molokai.
The company said that through community outreach “it became obvious” that the industrial development on Molokai and Lanai were not in the interest of Native Hawaiians but that the impact of the offshore installation was acceptable.
“Although the ocean is also of significant cultural importance, the impact of an offshore installation is felt to be more acceptable than major developments on Molokai and Lanai,” Alpha Wind said in the application.
Alpha Wind plans to sell the power to Hawaiian Electric Co., the state’s largest electric utility, but HECO said it has not received any offshore energy project proposals.
“Although we see media reports from time to time about offshore energy project proposals, we do not have any active solicitations in progress,” said HECO spokesman Darren Pai.
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