A desire to save consumers money and reduce their environmental footprint has led the county Department of Water Supply to expand into energy generation, said Keith Okamoto, the department’s manager-chief engineer on Monday night.
The event was one of the monthly pau hana events held at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.
Okamoto talked about the developing wind farm facility at Lalamilo in South Kohala, about four miles mauka of the Puako intersection.
The upgraded wind farm will power the eight wells in the area that pump about 5.1 million gallons a day.
It was originally a complex of 120 windmills that generated about 2.7 megawatts of power, Okamoto said.
The facility was decommissioned in 2010, with the expectation it would be repowered.
About that time the department began to consider alternative ways to power their pumps. They chose to reactivate the site with new technology and went out for bids.
The winning design places five generators on the older site that will generate a total of 3.3 megawatts.
The department promises to purchase 7,620 megawatts a year at a cheaper rate, said Okamoto. It begins at 27 cents a kilowatt-hour, down from the 38 cents a kilowatt hour Hawaiian Electric and Light Co. charges. The contract then slowly increases for the 30-year life of the contract.
The pumps use about 11,000 megawatts a year, and the county hopes to purchase more power from the farm. The farm’s power will not be sold to HELCO.
Once constructed, Okamoto said they expect to save their customers $1 million a year from the reduced cost.
Attendee Keith Olson said that rate was still expensive. The average cost of electricity nationwide in September was 12.98 cents a kilowatt hour, according to the Department of Energy.
Okamoto said that the cost was the result of the company’s expenditure to build the equipment and maintain the system.
The fact the company also maintains a facility in Hawi gives him confidence they have expertise and spare parts available.
He projected the completion as the end of 2016.
“That’s being cautiously optimistic,” he said.
He was confident that the contractor, Site Contractors, would work as rapidly as possible.
“They’re not making money if they’re not selling us power,” he said.
The power will go for the pumps that supply the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and Mauna Lani Resort along with their associated residential and commercial areas. It also covers the Puako community, Kawaihae Harbor and related buildings, and Spencer and Hapuna beach parks.
He said there are concerns about the environmental impact, but they are confident they’ll pass government requirements.
“The other problem with wind turbines is birds and bats,” he said, beyond that of energy generation based on variable wind speeds.
“There’s more bats now, which is good. But that means there are more bats to interact with the wind turbines,” he said.
The staggered layout should also limit the number of contacts, he said.
“So it’s not a wall of bat-killer blades,” he said.
He said that much of the effort is being led by other groups, including the contractor and other state agencies.
“We’re good at moving water, that’s our jobs,” he said.
Energy is not part of their expertise, he said.
The project has to clear two federal environmental permits, he said, but he’s confident they will be able to.
The area is comparatively barren, he said.
“No food, so no birds,” said attendee Ken Obenski.
Okamoto agreed, and said the fact they are already in an area used for wind power generation should help.
The next pau hana meeting will be about underwater photography for science outreach from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23.
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