Big Wind: Not As Big
Focus now on island-wide energy generation
Big Wind was the nickname for the state’s energy plan that included 200-megawatt wind farms on both Molokai and Lanai to supply energy to Oahu via an undersea cable. In the latest plan, Molokai Properties Limited , also known as Molokai Ranch, had planned to lease 11,000 acres of land to wind company Pattern Energy to build 70 400-foot tall wind turbines. But that plan fell through when the Ranch called off the deal in February, announcing their decision not to renew the lease agreement.
“Big Wind is dead as far as island of Molokai,” said Doug McCleod, Maui County energy commissioner last week.
Energy Administrator for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) Mark Glick offered the same confirmation.
“Any project the community doesn’t want, we don’t want, and as far as we’re concerned, there’s no plan with land owners and energy stakeholders, so we don’t see a utility scale wind project on Molokai,” he said. “I don’t see interconnection [via undersea cable] happening for Molokai.”
While Big Wind for Molokai appears to be off the table, the outlook is less clear for Lanai. When a majority of the island sold to Larry Ellison last year, former owner David Murdock retained the rights to a potential wind farm.
“We have been in contact with new owner’s energy expert and the type of work that he’s doing and data he’s collected is all focused on meeting the energy needs of Lanai,” said McCleod. But he said Murdock’s rights are still unclear, and though energy officials have questioned how long the rights are legally valid, McCleod said they haven’t gotten an answer.
Pacific Business News reported last week that a spokesperson for Murdock’s company, Castle & Cooke, said it is still pursuing the option of a wind farm on Lanai. The spokesperson reportedly described the project as a “key component in reaching the state’s renewable energy objectives.” Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative calls for 70 percent clean energy generation by 2030 in an effort to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuel.
If an industrial scale wind farm is built on Lanai, an undersea cable would accompany it to transport the energy to Oahu according to the state’s original plan. Many of the unknowns will unravel when Hawaiian Electric Company releases a long-awaited Request for Proposals, or RFP, for renewable energy projects across the state. Bidders responding to the RFP can propose projects located on Oahu, on neighbor islands, an undersea cable system bid, or a bid for a neighbor island project combined with the transmission cable. Energy could be generated by renewable sources such as wind, solar or any combination, said HECO spokesperson Peter Rosegg. The RFP, which was originally scheduled to be released last year, has experienced a number of delays and is now expected sometime this fall, according to McCleod.
With Lanai still on the table, local renewable energy group I Aloha Molokai (IAM) remains strong in their opposition to an undersea cable.
“We’re still under threat,” said Cheryl Corbiell of IAM. She said the group opposes the cable coming within five miles of Molokai shores. If the cable runs to Lanai, that would route it through or around Molokai to reach Oahu.
Glick said the state still favors interconnection, but now considers it mostly between Maui and Oahu, and Hawaii Island and Oahu.
“We still believe interconnection makes an enormous amount of sense,” he said, stating it will help lower electric rates and provide greater opportunities for the introduction of addition renewable energy. “But that can be done while Molokai pursues greater energy self-sufficiency,” he added. “We don’t see [those efforts] as being inconsistent with each other.”