Winds of Change

Energy agreement gives go-ahead to First Wind on Molokai

By Catherine Cluett

For Molokai residents pushing for alternative energy on the island, an agreement called “Big Wind” announced by Governor Lingle last week gives cause for hope. Alternative wind energy company First Wind has received the okay to begin building a wind farm on Molokai through the agreement between First Wind, Castle & Cooke and the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO).

First Wind on Molokai and Castle & Cooke on Lanai submitted competing wind energy proposals to the state last year.  Each had proposed supplying about 400 megawatts (MW) of energy to Oahu from either Lanai or Molokai.  But under the new agreement, the companies will split the state’s objective, and produce 200 MW of energy on each island.

First Wind and Castle & Cooke plan to build wind farms that would supply a combined 400 MW of energy to Oahu. Ultimately, Lanai and Molokai would be connected to Oahu’s energy grid through an undersea cable. Both companies would sell the wind energy from the neighbor islands to HECO.

“The reason we want to get wind power from Molokai and Lanai is because this is where the wind is,” said a representative from Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT). “It’s the best wind in the state.”

First Wind said they have a two-phase plan for Molokai. Ikaika I, the first phase, will be built on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) in Hoolehua. Up to 20 windmills, each measuring 400 feet tall, will generate 50 MW of power, according to First Wind. The company started collecting wind data and conducting bird studies at the proposed site last year.  Construction of the wind farm is proposed to begin in 2012.  First Wind has worked closely with Molokai homesteaders on its plans for the proposed wind farm.

“The State needs to be in continued dialogue with Molokai to know what we want and what is needed,” said Molokai resident and sustainability advocate Matt Yamashita at a meeting with state officials last week in Kaunakakai. “We want to become a model of sustainability to the world – it’s our vision.”

“We’re sensitive to the fact that things are tight on Molokai,” said a DBEDT spokesperson. “This [project] might be a benefit that can help everybody,” he said describing recent shutdowns on the island including Molokai Ranch operations.

Friendly Isle locals could benefit with drastically reduced electricity rates if Molokai links up with Oahu’s electrical grid via undersea cable. In December, Molokai residents were paying $.39/kilowatt-hour (kwh) compared to $.25/kwh charged to residents on Oahu.

But there is a much greater benefit for Molokai should First Wind succeed in the second phase, Ikaika II, of its proposal to HECO.

First Wind representatives said the additional 150 MW of proposed wind energy could be produced on Molokai Ranch lands owned by Molokai Properties Limited. In November 2007, First Wind made a $50 million pledge to a community-driven campaign to purchase Molokai Ranch spearheaded by the Molokai Community Service Council. First Wind said if the community is successful in purchasing the property, the company would lease the lands to built the wind farm, creating jobs and income for the community.

Until recently, plans to buy Molokai Ranch were stalled because Ranch representatives said the property was not for sale. However, last week at a state hearing, Molokai Ranch General Manager Dan Orodenker said the company’s land is for sale if the right was made.

Meanwhile lawmakers are forging ahead with the goal to produce 70 percent of the state’s energy from clean or renewable sources by the year 2030. It is all part of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and the State of Hawaii. The Big Wind agreement is being considered a major step toward the state’s goal. 

"I’m very optimistic about our state's opportunity to gain independence and security, to contribute to a cleaner environment… both for families and for businesses," said Gov. Lingle.

“Castle & Cooke and First Wind deserve considerable credit for working together to help get more renewable energy online faster for our state,” said Hawaiian Electric Executive Vice President Robbie Alm. “These two wind projects are absolutely essential to meeting our Hawai‘i Clean Energy commitments and we are very pleased to be able to work with both developers to negotiate purchase power contracts as soon as possible.”


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