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Wind farm developer responds to surfers’ claim of project hurting wave conditions at Sunset

As if Oahu’s fabled North Shore needed anymore attention because of its world-famous waves.

A battle is starting to swell between the developer of an on-shore wind energy farm that is planned for the area and a community group called “Surfers 4 Solar.” They are waging a battle over the effects the giant wind turbines may be having on the waves at one of the most-famous surf spots on the planet.

The surfers claim that changes in wind conditions at Sunset Beach surfing spots are caused by the existing 30-megawatt Kahuku wind farm, nearly four miles away, and that these conditions will be exacerbated by the construction of California-based Champlin/GEI Wind Holding LLC’s 25-megwawatt Na Pua Makani Wind project near Kahuku.

The issue was raised last month by the community group at a Hawaii Public Utilities Commission hearing regarding the project.

The group said it reached this conclusion when they observed a decrease in winds after the Kahuku wind farm came online in 2011. To confirm their thesis that the wind farm had affected surfing conditions, the organization conducted a study of weather station data from 2012 to today.

Surfers 4 Solar said the problem is that the Kahuku wind farm has interfered with the northeast trade winds that contribute to favorable surfing conditions and that the Na Pua Makani project, located a mile further east from the Kahuku wind farm, will only worsen the issue.

Champlin’s top executive was compelled enough by the claim to personally pen a letter to the the chairman of the PUC this month. He wrote that research reveals the surfers’ observations of decreasing easterly tradewinds are accurate, but the assumptions about the cause are not.

“In fact, the Kahuku wind project was not in operation during much of the time when it was ostensibly affecting the winds,” Mike Curtbirth, president and CEO of Champlin, said. “The project started operation in March 2011 and shut down in August 2012 for an extended period of time due to a battery fire. The project was subsequently repaired and restarted, and back at full capacity only in February 2014.”