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Proposal seeks new buffer for wind farms, residents

A proposal to create a larger buffer zone between new wind turbine developments and neighboring properties was tabled by the Honolulu Planning Commission Wednesday pending further investigation into the matter.

But commissioners seemed inclined to go with a smaller buffer zone than the 5 miles originally proposed by Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi and approved by the City Council Zoning Committee last year in the wake of the arrests and controversy involving a wind farm in Kahuku.

That proposal, which targets utility-scale turbines with a minimum capacity of 100 kilowatts, essentially would eliminate future development of wind farms anywhere on Oahu.

As a compromise, the Department of Planning and Permitting proposed an alternative bill that increases the setback from the large turbines to a distance of only 1, 500 feet—or a distance equal to no less than 2 feet for each foot of height, measured from the highest vertical sweep of the blades, whichever is greater.

On Wednesday, however, DPP Land Use Permits Division Chief Katia Balassiano presented a new proposal after receiving updated testimony from the Hawaii State Energy Office and from Tsuneyoshi. The proposal calls for a setback of 1.25 miles from any property line.

Balassiano said she felt the new proposal was “more workable ” with a buffer zone significant enough to prevent neighbors from experiencing most of the impacts from utility-scale wind farms.

“We didn’t want to zone these out of existence, ” she said. “We wanted to listen to concerns of the community. We wanted to take science into account. We wanted some regulations that were workable.

The 1.25-mile setback, she said, is unlikely to preclude the growth of the wind industry while, at the same time, doing what’s necessary to make the surrounding community “more comfortable.”

“It’s a bit of balancing act trying to satisfy the great variety of needs and interests that exist, ” Balassiano said.

Commissioners put off a final vote until the panel’s May 12 meeting, saying they wanted more detailed information about where on the island wind farms could possibly be developed under the proposed setback.

They also wanted more information about the proposal’s impact if the setback was limited to residential property lines rather than all property lines as proposed.

In previous testimony, the Hawaii Clean Power Alliance said it preferred that the buffer zone be applied to residential property lines only.

Current law allows large wind turbines with a setback from property lines at a minimum distance equal to the height of the machine, including the highest point of the blade.

In 2019 the planned Na Pua Makani wind farm drew the wrath of folks in Kahuku as about 200 people were arrested trying to stop the massive turbine parts from being hauled from the port at Kalaeloa to the remote community.

The 24-watt wind farm is now operational, and many residents continue to argue the turbines are too close to the community and bring detrimental health effects. The wind farm’s developer, AES Corp., says there’s no evidence of that.

Na Pua Makani Power Partners LLC says the eight-turbine project helps Oahu not only reduce its dependence on fossil fuels but avoid almost 1 million tons of carbon dioxide over the next two decades.