A North Shore preservation group initiated state hearings this week to force the developer of a 25-megawatt wind facility to improve its habitat conservation plan for the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat.
Attorneys representing Keep The North Shore Country at the hearings on Monday and Tuesday said Na Pua Makani Power Partners LLC needs to improve its habitat conservation plan for the bat, arguing the developer did not study impacts from taller turbines, or offer adequate mitigation measures for the number of bats the machines are expected to kill.
Na Pua Makani received approval from state regulators in 2015 to supply energy to Hawaiian Electric Co. at 15 cents per kilowatt-hour for 20 years. The “incidental take” license – a license that allows the project to kill, harm or harass a certain number of endangered species – is one of the final approvals the project needs to begin construction.
“We’re asking that the habitat conservation plan and incidental take license be sent back to the Endangered Species Recovery Committee for further review and improvement in order to ensure a true net benefit, not detriment, to our endangered opeapea (Hawaiian hoary bat),” said Maxx Phillips, attorney for Keep The North Shore Country, on Monday. “There is no evidence that the mitigation is going to offset the take of the bats.”
This contested case follows a Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife report to the 2017 state Legislature that showed Hawaii’s five major wind farms are killing Hawaiian hoary bats at a much faster pace than expected. The report showed the wind farms have killed 146 Hawaiian hoary bats in 6.4 years out of the 187 they are allowed to kill over 20 years.
Na Pua Makani plans to counter the killing of bats by providing funding for Hawaiian hoary bat research; funding forest restoration and fence maintenance and trapping to protect bats from predators; and reducing the speed of turbines March through November between sunset and sunrise, times when bats are most likely to be in the area.
Still many members of the Kahuku community voiced concerns about the impact the turbines would have on the bats.
Kahuku resident Charlotte Kamauoha said the hoary bat is aumakua, a family god or an ancestral deity, to many in her community.
“It is a very spiritual connection to aumakua,” she said. “With all of the concerns we have as a community, with all of the health risk and devaluation of property and just the social economic injustice, because we already have wind turbines, none of that really matters except the safety and well being of the opeapea.”
Mike Cutbirth, manager of Na Pua Makani Power Partners, said the habitat conservation plan was developed over a three-year period and incorporated all of the recommendations from state and federal agencies.
In its second draft of the environmental impact statement, Na Pua Makani said the turbines will reach roughly 144 feet higher than originally specified, with the sweep of their blades potentially going to 656 feet. Phillips said the changed height with larger rotor swept areas was not reflected in the company’s habitat conservation plan.
Final statements must be submitted by each side by Sept. 8 and the hearings’ officer must submit a decision to the Board of Land and Natural Resources, before the board can make a decision.
In October, the BLNR approved Na Pua Makani’s 40-year lease, despite community opposition. Members of the Kahuku community have raised the concern that many residents were unable to participate in meetings.
Elizabeth Rago, a member of the board of directors of the Kahuku Community Association, brought up the issue Monday. Rago requested time off to attend the hearing and said many of her neighbors would not have been able to do the same.
Na Pua Makani’s wind project would be the second wind farm in Kahuku and the third on the North Shore.
“Everybody has been opposing it but they don’t hear us,” Kamauoha said. “Part of it is because, Kahuku, we lack the resources. This wouldn’t happen in Hawaii Kai.”
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