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Wind farm seeks incidental take permit

KAILUA-KONA – The operator of Lalamilo Wind Farm has applied for a federal permit that would allow for the incidental taking of two endangered Hawaiian species during the project’s operation.

Lalamilo Wind Co. is applying for an incidental take permit (ITP) that would authorize take of the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus semotus) and the endangered Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis) as a result of the operation of the Wind Farm Repowering Project in Waimea.

The permit, which also includes a draft habitat conservation plan (DHCP) and draft environmental assessment (DEA), is required under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The permit would be good for 20 years, and commercial operation of the facility would commence once a decision is rendered.

The wind farm is located on 126 acres leased by the Hawaii County Department of Water Supply (DWS) from the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The acreage is zoned agriculture and surrounded by pastoral land.

Lalamilo Wind Co. proposes to operate the project to provide electricity to eight existing water wells in the Lalamilo-Parker well system in Waimea.

The wind farm, originally constructed in the mid-1980s with 120 wind turbines and a capacity of 2.7 megawatts, was decommissioned in 2010 in anticipation of repowering the site. In 2013, the DWS awarded Lalamilo Wind Co. the contract to design, build and operate the wind farm and associated facilities for the project.

Construction, of the project now consisting of five Vestas 660-kilowatt wind turbines with a generating capacity of 3.3 megawatts, was completed in 2016. The applicant is currently curtailing the wind turbine so that only two turbines are being test-run at a time.

According to the draft EA, the project is located where Hawiian hoary bats are known to collide with wind turbine structures at the existing Pakini Nui 21-megawatt wind energy facility. The closest known colony of Hawaiian petrel is located on the southwest flank of Mauna Loa, more than 55 miles from the wind farm. It’s believed that the petrel would only occur within the project area as it transits between the ocean and nesting grounds.

To date, there have been no documented petrel fatalities within the project area, according to the document.

Based on post-construction bat fatality monitoring data collected at Kaheawa Wind Power facility on Maui, the draft documents state an estimated three to six bat fatalities could occur in the next 20 years during the Waimea project’s operations.

The company is considering four alternatives, including a no-action alternative, the proposed action, a no-curtailment alternative, and an increased cut-in speed alternative.

The proposed action calls for curtailing all turbine blades from sunset to dusk, until wind speeds of 5.5 meters per second (m/s) are sustained for 10 minutes, at which time the blades would be pitched into the wind and begin rotating to generate power when needed for the water pumps. It is expected that only up to three of the five turbines will be in operation at any one time.

The company is also proposing to improve habitat, control predators and other offset measures. Among those are native forest restoration to increase and improve Hawaiian hoary bat habitat, conducting acoustic surveys to document occupancy of the Hawaiian hoary bat and funding fence maintenance and predator control to protect the Hawaiian petrel in a vulnerable nesting area.

The Fish and Wildlife Service noted it plans to approve the DHCP and issue the permit for incidental take of the covered species caused by activities associated with the operation of the project, if permit issuance criteria are met.

Written comments are due by Jan. 16. They can be submitted via postal mail, email or fax, or dropped off in person at the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office in Honolulu. The document is available online at www.fws.gov/pacificislands and provides specific details on submitting comments. A decision will not be rendered until after the 45-day comment period, which opened Dec. 1, ends.