Not in My Backyard
Homesteaders speak against proposed wind farm in Ho`olehua.
By Catherine Cluett
While the rest of the world has joined the rush to “go green,” many Molokai residents say their island has been green all along.
Just ask Ho`olehua homesteader Kanoho Helm, who spoke against the wind energy project in Ho`olehua proposed by First Wind.
“Ho`olehua is green already,” Helm said at a community meeting with First Wind last week. “These [wind turbines] are gonna add another ugly color,” he continued. “I’m all for renewable energy, just not in my yard.”
But First Wind didn’t face only opposition during two community meetings held last week.
“Yes, you have it in your backyard,” countered Molokai resident Matt Yamashita. “But your kids will have renewable energy and have land in their backyard that’s community-run.”
Wind energy company First Wind has been in dialogue with Molokai residents since 2006, when the company, then known as UPC Wind, proposed a 350 megawatt (MW) wind farm for the island.
Three years later, thanks to the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI), which sets a statewide goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030, Molokai is set up to play a large role in renewable energy for the future. After bidding against each other in 2008, Castle & Cooke on Lanai and First Wind on Molokai were awarded an agreement allowing each company to supply up to 200 MW of energy. The March 17 “Big Wind” agreement signed by Hawaiian Electric Company would supply energy to Oahu via a proposed undersea cable.
First Wind operates Kaheawa Wind Farm on Maui, Hawaii’s largest utility-scale operating wind energy project producing about 9% of Maui’s energy. The State of Hawaii currently has four operating wind farms.
First Wind’s proposal for Molokai, called Ikaika Wind Power, is broken into two phases. The first phase, Ikaika I, calls for 20 turbines to be built on Department of Hawaiian Homelands lands in Ho`oluhua. Each turbine would sit on a 45 foot concrete foundation and measure 400 feet tall, or about 40 stories, that will be built by an expert concrete contractor who also offers concrete pumping service, foundation repair and maintenance projects, according to Noe Kalipi, Director of Government & Community Relations for First Wind. Each turbine would generate 2.5 MW of power, totaling about 50 MW.
Temporary meteorological (MET) towers have already been installed in Ho`olehua, near Mo`omomi, to measure wind velocity and weather conditions. First Wind is also conducting avian studies to ensure the turbines are placed in locations with the least bird activity, according to Kalipi.
Ikaika II would be constructed on what is now Molokai Ranch lands. The proposal calls for 150 MW of energy, generated from 80 turbines. First Wind has pledged $50 million to the Ho`i I Ka Pono campaign, an effort spearheaded by the Molokai Community Service Council to buy Molokai Ranch lands. Kalipi said if the community is successful in purchasing the land, First Wind would lease the property from a managing community entity.
First Wind’s business model, according to Kalipi, is to develop, construct, own and operate their wind farms, working with the community and remaining accountable to the community. First Wind has pledged to remove all its equipment and restore the area at the end of its lease.
“We cannot complete this project without community support,” she said.
According to First Wind, Molokai has much to benefit from a partnership in wind energy. Providing community benefits and assisting the buyout of Molokai Ranch are just a couple examples.
According to Kammy Purdy, First Wind has already established a college scholarship fund for homesteaders is association with MET towers previously installed. Kalipi said future donations to scholarship funds and immersion schools are just one possibility for homestead benefits.
Kalipi said the company has been working in partnership with an energy working group of Molokai residents to brainstorm green alternatives for Molokai’s diesel dependent grid.
Wren Wescoatt, a Development Specialist for First Wind, explained that because the entire Molokai grid is only about 5 MW and each turbine would generate about 2.5 MW, First Wind would have to build separate, smaller turbines to supply Molokai’s grid directly.
The company is also proposing subsidies which could help lower residents’ electricity payments, according to Kalipi.
“Not in my yard” seemed to be a recurring theme of homesteaders who opposed the wind energy proposal during last week’s meetings..
“I don’t think you should put them in anyone’s yard,” said Corene Helm. “I don’t care what benefits you offer us, nothing can compare to the culture, beauty and spirituality we have in front of us already.”
“We need to change perspective of what windmills represent,” said Matt Yamashita. “If getting foreign owners that don’t want to help Molokai off the island, is that worth having windmills in our backyard? If we lower energy costs for the whole island, is that worth having windmills in our backyard?”
Homesteader Kammy Purdy spoke in favor of the project. She urged homesteaders to look at the alternatives, adding it would be hard to find a company as willing to work with the community.
For Mac Poepoe, the deal has to be a fair trade for Molokai.
“Every time Molokai gives something up, we never get something in return that is equal in value, we’re always getting shafted,” he said.
“My whole house is run from solar,” added Poepoe. “You need to talk one good story to convince me that these things are more worth the while than the people who will look at them.”
“I hear your voices loud and clear,” said Kalipi at the conclusion of a meeting with Ho`olehua homesteaders. “But we still hope to continue community dialogue. This is the kind of feedback we need to hear.”