The state approved Friday a 40-year lease for up to nine wind turbines near Kahuku, despite community opposition due to how close the wind farm is to homes and schools.
In a 5-1 vote the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved Na Pua Makani Power Partners LLC’s lease to build the 25-megawatt wind farm in Kahuku on the North Shore of Oahu, the second wind farm near the community.
Mike Cutbirth, manager of Na Pua Makani Power Partners, said there is a long list of benefits to the state, the county and the local community, including the rental income the state gets from Na Pua Makani, the jobs created by construction and a $2 million public benefit fund that will be paid to the community. The fund will be paid in increments over the life of the lease.
“(The list) ranges from rental income to the state under the lease, construction and long-term jobs for the community as well as a $2 million benefit fund that goes to the benefit of the local communities out there,” Cutbirth said. “It is a pretty comprehensive package of benefits, and the electricity we generate is half the cost of burning oil.”
Residents will earn $10,000 for every turbine, every year, as long as the turbines are operating, with a minimum of 20 years. The state will receive a minimum of $120,000 a year plus a royalty of 2.5 percent of the gross revenues of the electricity sold to Hawaiian Electric Co. that is generated on the state land.
Opponents said they didn’t want the farm because they already have one nearby and it’s too close to the community.
Kent Fonoimoana, co-chairman of Makani Pono o Kahuku, said he is opposed to the wind farm because of the potential damage the turbines could cause during a hurricane.
“The issue is proximity,” Fonoimoana said. “My concern is should a catastrophic failure occur and a nacelle (the generator housing), blade, turbine and the whole thing hit the ground, at that point during the hurricane those pieces of the turbine now become flying objects through a community.”
Na Pua Makani’s wind project would be the second wind farm in Kahuku and the third on the North Shore. The 69-megawatt Kawailoa Wind project northeast of Haleiwa was completed in November 2012, and the 30-megawatt Kahuku Wind farm was completed in March 2011.
State Rep. Feki Pouha (D, Koolauloa-North Shore-Koolaupoko) said he was concerned about the proximity of the turbines to the schools and community.
“We’re just concerned that infrastructure projects be as robust and safe as possible,” Pouha said. “Not to say that they are unsafe. We want to err on the side of caution and prudence.”
Pouha said he plans to continue to raise community awareness of the potential pitfalls of having the turbines so close to Kahuku High School and Kahuku residents.
“The next step would just to be raise more awareness and point to what is happening on Maui,” he said.
Earlier this month San Diego-based Sempra U.S. Gas & Power, owner of the Auwahi Wind farm, said all eight turbines at the farm shut down because a nacelle, hub and blades on one of the turbines at Auwahi broke off from the tower and fell to the ground.
Na Pua Makani officials said the company has moved the projects back farther from the community than required. The minimum setback is 512 feet, according to Honolulu City and County rules. The nearest homes are approximately 2,000 feet away. Kahuku Elementary School is 2,205 feet away, according to Na Pua Makani.
In its second draft of the environmental impact statement, Na Pua Makani said it plans to decrease the number of turbines it will develop near the North Shore community to eight or nine from the original 10, but the turbines will be roughly 144 feet taller, standing at 656 feet. Three years ago the company proposed about 13 turbines.
BLNR members Suzanne D. Case, Stanley H. Roehrig, Jimmy Gomes, Thomas Oi and Chris Yuen all voted in favor of the wind farm. Yuen recommended it be approved because it is important for the state to move forward with renewable energy.
“We all understand the great importance of having renewable energy,” Yuen said. “There are no renewable energy projects without some negative effects somewhere.”
Yuen’s recommendation was interrupted by Fonoimoana.
“How many are in your backyard?” Fonoimoana asked.
Fonoimoana said Makani Pono o Kahuku asked for a contested case hearing, a trial-like review of the wind farm plan. The board unanimously denied a contested case hearing.
Samuel ‘Ohu Gon III was not present for the vote. Keone Downing voted against the application.
“I didn’t like the way the lease was written,” Downing said.
The lease approval was one of the last major hurdles for the project before development can begin.
The state Public Utilities Commission approved the power purchasing agreement for the project in January 2015, saying the project would balance HECO’s energy portfolio and will help lower energy costs for Oahu residents.
Na Pua Makani’s parent company, Champlin/GEI Wind Holdings LLC, a Southern California wind energy development company, plans to supply 24 megawatts of energy to Hawaiian Electric Co. at 15 cents per kilowatt-hour over the next 20 years.
The public will have one more time to testify about the wind project. The BLNR will hold a public hearing for Na Pua Makani’s Incidental Take License – a license that allows the project to kill, harm or harass a certain number of endangered species.
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