First Wind Up in the Air

Windmills are still a long way from landing on Molokai

By Dan Murphy

Regardless of whether or not the Molokai community decides wind energy is a healthy option for the island, wind turbines will not appear any time soon. There is still much to be done and many questions to be answered before First Wind, the company that has proposed a wind farm on the island, could move forward with the project. The company held a public meeting last week to continue to hear local concerns and clear up any misunderstandings about the project.

“I am looking for ways to work the community input into our project, because based on my experience with Molokai, if the community is not a part of it, it’s not going to happen,” said Noe Kalipi, First Wind Director of Community Relations.

Most Molokai residents who attended last Thursday’s meeting would be happy if the deal never went through. First Wind’s current plan calls for the installation of up to 20 turbines on Hawaiian Homestead land in Ho`olehua, followed by as many as 60 turbines on Molokai Ranch land in a second phase. However, exact locations for the windmills have not been decided, and neither the Department of Hawaiian Homelands nor Molokai Ranch have agreed to let First Wind build on their land.

Kalipi said they have approached Molokai Ranch’s parent company, GuocoLeisure, with a proposal to buy the land, but they were turned down. First Wind has also pledged to contribute $50 million if Molokai residents choose to purchase the land.

Currently, no alternative sites have been identified for the wind farm if the first two choices fall through. Kalipi did say that no more than the 20 turbines would be built on homestead land, and none would be built in the Mo`omomi area, based on the community’s request.

Public Concerns
Community members also asked that no underwater cable go through Mo`omomi Bay. The cable would be used to carry the power from Molokai to Oahu, but citizens were nervous about potential danger.

“I’ve said it before electricity and water just don’t mix,” said Molokai resident Judy Caparida.

Kalipi reassured those at the meeting that the technology was safe, but added that the state government had taken over that part of the project. Kalipi could not guarantee that the cable would not go through Mo`omomi, but she did say First Wind is working with the state and would urge them not to run it through the area.

Molokai homesteader Kanoho Helm said all of the uncertainties of the project worried him.

“We are supposed to trust our livelihood, our culture and put our way of life on the line for a lot of what-ifs,” he said.

Lack of trust was a recurring theme among many who spoke against the wind project. Many speakers said that past experiences with other companies left them with a lack of faith in First Wind and the government.

“We don’t have a lot of answers because we are doing it in a community-based way. If we were just making all the decisions and presenting them it would be different,” Kalipi said. “It’s just the way we do things; we want the community to feel like it is their wind farm.”

Many community members at the meeting found it hard to think of the windmills as their own because all the electricity generated would be sent to Oahu.

“I feel that there is an imbalance because of the different lifestyle on Oahu. In Molokai, we are simple people,” Ho`olehua resident Opu`ulani Albino said. “My biggest problem with the project is that it infringes along the lands that are very special to Hawaiians.”

Kammy Purdy, one of the few Molokai homesteaders who spoke in favor of the project, said the windmills would help power Molokai’s economy.

“Economics is what it’s all about,” Purdy said. “The economy will catch up with Molokai eventually. What will happen when the state can’t pay whatever benefits they pay to us?”

Purdy said she did not want the state to resort to building strip malls or developments on Molokai to raise that money. She said that 20 windmills are a much better option than 2,000 new homes.

A Long Way to Go
Kalipi said although it seems that the project is still at square one, she was happy with the results of the meeting. She said First Wind’s unorthodox approach to creating their wind farms usually leads to a long process.

“We are still just getting started,” she said. “If getting the windmills up and running is like graduating from high school, then we are still in kindergarten right now.”

First Wind’s current timetable calls for construction to start in 2013, but Kalipi said that plan was “extremely optimistic.”

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