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What’s Blowin On

Here is a rendering of what the UPC wind farm would look like on Molokai.

Community forum hosts talks about Molokai wind-farm.

By Brandon Roberts

Renewable energy is a Hawaiian value in that it aims at harnessing the gift of nature without depleting it. But is the greater community willing to tap Molokai’s steady wind resources at the sacrifice of building a large scale wind farm?

For the past several weeks, it has been the mission of Molokai youth to gauge the community’s acceptance of the potential wind farm. Forums have already been held in Kilohana, Kaunakakai, Ho`olehua and Maunaloa.

“Ask the hard questions,” youth organizer Matt Yamashita told community members. “What vision are we going to put forth to create a future that fits with what we believe the potential of this island is. We are not representing UPC; we just created the space to have this dialogue.”

Numerous concerns surround this development proposal, and Molokai asked the crucial question: Are there benefits to the community?

Will UPC Hawaii Wind bring jobs to folks on the Friendly Isle? UPC says maybe for the construction, but only a skeleton crew is required for the remaining 20 years. (They did agree to sign a contract not use potable water from the island during construction.)

Will UPC lower electricity rates on Molokai? No guarantee. There are many problems with hooking a variable source, like wind, up to the current diesel plant, and the proposal is a one-way cable to Oahu for Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO).

“There are some big ‘ifs’ with this project; one is gaining control of the lands, second is the undersea cable and third is whether our bid to HECO would be accepted,” said Wren Wescoatt, development specialist.

Would the project prevent access to the land for hunting or recreation? According to UPC, the project would prevent other types of development on thousands of acres while providing a source of community revenue. Pre-existing uses of the land would continue once the construction was completed. At the end of the lease, the windmills would be completely removed.

Can a deal be struck quickly between UPC and Guoco Leisure? There is no guarantee, and UPC has been in discussions since 2006.

How will money come back to the community? UPC has committed $50 million toward Ho`i I Ka Pono (to restore righteousness or balance), a campaign led by the Molokai Community Service Council (MCSC) to purchase all of the lands now owned by Molokai Ranch. UPC would lease the land from MCSC, which could amount to five million dollars per year.

How close would the windmill be to a home? No turbine would be constructed within a half mile of residencies, and the Liberty units have an extremely low noise output, rotating at 21 times per minute, though they are a skyscraping 400 feet tall.

Representative Mele Carroll said that it is “brilliant that young people are doing this; it is creating leaders.” She met with UPC planners earlier and said that the company has many potential opportunities for Molokai.

“UPC combines technology with Molokai island values,” said Noe Kalipi, UPC director of community relations. Statistically speaking, one mega-watt (MW) hour of energy saves 17,000 lbs of carbon dioxide. The power plant on Molokai burns around one million gallons of diesel fuel every year.

Kalipi said there is a seriousness and legitimacy to this project. “We want to have transparency, which is fluid, we want to establish and ongoing dialogue. UPC is a community conscious and a community based company.” UPC began meeting with Molokai leaders in 2006.

The proposed Ikaika (energy) project is under discussion with Molokai homesteaders and the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, and would use 20 windmills and produce 50 MW. Ikaika II, which would be on 12,000 acres spanning between Ho`olehua and Ilio Point on Molokai’s rugged northwestern coast line. Both projects could produce a combined 350 MW.

Castle and Cook, which is owned by David Murdock, has a wind-farm project that is moving ahead on Lanai, despite failed legislation to fast track the project. They will submit a bid to HECO as well.

“UPC has an incentive to do things right, as we are accountable to the communities we join for the life of our project,” Kalipi said, emphasizing the UPC mission.

“We are creating a future for this island,” said Matt Yamashita, holding onto the idea of finding a common ground.

“We have within us the will, the mana, the smarts, and the commitment to create something we can all be happy with,” said Akutagawa. “And then the scars in our heart will heal, and we can look at each other and say aloha.”

Any questions regarding the community forums can be directed to molokaisolutions@yahoo.com. Information on UPC Wind can be found at www.upcwind.com, and the Molokai Community Service Council can be reached at www.molokai.org.

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