PAUKUKALO – A proposed 60-megawatt wind farm can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kahikinui homesteaders and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, but some residents say the windmills would desecrate the area.
The Hawaiian Homes Commission hosted a public hearing Wednesday night at the Paukukalo Community Center that drew nearly 100 people. A similar hearing Thursday morning attracted about 150 people, officials said.
The commission is gathering comments until Aug. 21. It will decide in November whether to grant NextEra Energy Resources a right of entry and general lease to access the East Maui area. NextEra was selected Jan. 16 to develop the renewable energy project.
NextEra Business Development Director Anthony Pedroni told residents at the Wednesday hearing that Kahikinui “has a tremendous wind resource that can be developed into a world-class wind project that can deliver upon Hawaii’s state energy goals” of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
“This is a project that, if it all works out right, can get us a long way to achieving that goal,” Pedroni said.
The project includes building 20 wind turbines, each generating 3 megawatts (similar in size to Auwahi wind farm at Ulupalakua Ranch). Though the exact project site, about 30 acres, on which the turbines would be built has not yet been determined, Pedroni said it would be located near the ocean on the southeastern portion of the department’s land at Kahikinui.
If the commission approves the right of entry in November, NextEra would have three to five years to assess the area and conduct cultural, environmental and archaeological studies, as well as wind analysis and engineering assessments. In exchange, the NextEra utility would pay the department $175,000 per year for the first three years and $200,000 for an additional two years, if needed.
If NextEra deems the project feasible at that point, it would enter into a 20-year general lease with the department, which could be finalized only after a power purchase agreement is executed with Maui Electric Co. Pedroni estimated that the “community benefits package” to Kahikinui homesteaders and the department would top $300,000 per year of the 20-year lease.
He added that after the lease is over, the company would decommission the windmills and make sure the “ground is returned in the condition we found it.”
“When the project’s done, if there’s not going to be a subsequent project, we’re going to reclaim the land, return it back to the rightful owners in the condition we found it in initially,” Pedroni said.
The build-out of the Kahikinui wind project does not depend on the undersea cable or the pending acquisition of MECO parent company Hawaiian Electric Industries by NextEra. Last month, Gov. David Ige announced his opposition to the NextEra merger because the Florida-based utility does not “see Hawaii as the center of its work” or “align with the state’s renewable energy goals” of 100 percent renewable energy. He urged the state Public Utilities Commission to reject the historic $4.3 billion deal.
If HECO is acquired by NextEra, the Florida-based company will likely control MECO, thereby ensuring that a power-purchase agreement and lease are awarded, retired college professor Dick Mayer pointed out in his testimony Wednesday night.
He also raised concerns that the Delaware-based subsidiary of NextEra that is listed on project documents, Boulevard Associates, would not be around in 20 years to decommission the windmills. He urged the commission to require a comprehensive environmental impact statement instead of just an environmental assessment, and asked for reassurances that the energy generated from the wind farm would stay on Maui and that there’d be no undersea cable.
“When I see $300,000 for community benefits, that’s trivial,” Mayer said, estimating that NextEra would generate $30 million to $40 million in annual revenue to the company. He asked commissioners to “make sure you have the right financial help you need to make sure the community and Hawaiian Homes Commission get the proper benefits.”
Other residents raised concerns about maintaining the pristine landscape and protecting delicate ecosystems in the area.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve been going to Kahikinui every week to hunt, fish or dive to help put food on the table,” said resident Kanaloa Twist. “In this day and age, so many people take our land for granted and not realize there aren’t too much areas without hotels, telescope and tall buildings that desecrate the land. . . . We need to plan better.”
Andrea Buckman, who works for the Leeward Haleakala Restoration Partnership, pointed out that even if NextEra returns the land to the community, “you’re never going to bring it back to what it once was.”
“The forest is already very challenged and in a sensitive state. I advocate for protecting what few precious places we have left on Maui and proceeding with caution,” Buckman said.
Resident Foster Ampong testified that developers promise that wind energy would reduce the exorbitant electric bills on Maui, but they have not yet delivered.
“So far the three windmills built on Maui have not provided any substantive relief for homesteaders or ratepayers on the island. . . . They say we need the wind farm so people will pay less electric bills, but that isn’t true,” Ampong said.
But Kahikinui homesteaders supported the project as a way to bring much-needed resources to the area.
“This project is not about the community’s desire to have access to go fishing or gathering, it’s about rehabilitating Native Hawaiians so we can return to our status as a self-sustaining community that was there before contact,” said Blossom Feiteira, a Kahikinui resident and spokeswoman for Ka ‘Ohana o Kahikinui. She added that there are 20 vacant lots at Kahikinui that are not occupied because we “need access to resources, projects and skills.”
Kahikinui homesteader Charmaine Day testified she’s been driving for the last 15 years “up and down those Jeep trails. Sometimes, getting home, you cannot.”
“We live out there without water. It’s water catchment. We have generator, windmill and solar power. . . . Seriously, it’s a struggle out there for us,” she said.
The community benefits promised by NextEra could go a long way in helping Kahikinui homesteaders install critical infrastructure, Day said.
“Do we need the windmills? Frankly no, because we live off the grid anyway. But will it benefit us? Well, I like more money than what was (given to us),” she said.
Commission Chairwoman Jobie Masagatani said after the Wednesday meeting that “the decision has not been made yet” and assured residents that their comments would be taken under consideration before the commission makes its decision in November.
“There’s a lot of ifs, ifs, ifs to happen,” Masagatani said, adding that the commission has hired a consultant to ensure it is doing its due diligence in evaluating the proposal.
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