Senate hearing listens to environmental concerns for proposed wind farm

| January 12, 2011 | 0 Comments

Pu'ino Kolu O Hina (Three winds of Hina) sits beside the Molokai Public Library with the state court and office building at its back. Hina, the goddess of Molokai, is shown with Wawahonua, the great wind gourd. Inside the gourd are the three storms of Hina — 'great are the powers that protect the child Moloka'i.'

With the Programmatic Environmental Impact Study (PEIS) underway for an undersea cable transmission project, the Hawaii Senate Energy and Environment Committee listened to presentations from members of the Molokai and Lanai communities yesterday.

Also at the hearing were representatives of Castle and Cooke and First Wind, who are working to provide electricity via 200-megawatt wind farms on Lanai and Molokai, respectively. These two projects are key pieces in achieving the state’s energy independence goal of providing 70 percent renewable energy by 2030.

The Energy Office of the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) announced in December the start of its $2.9 million feasibility study for installing an undersea energy transmission cable between Molokai and Lanai to Oahu.

Now the public negotiations are beginning in earnest to determine the level of community support for these two projects. Based on yesterday’s presentations, it appears that Lanai is much closer to accepting a wind farm than Molokai.

Besides DBEDT, presentations were heard from Hawaiian Electric Company, Lanaians for Sensible Growth, Friends of Lanai, Hui Ho’opakele Aina, Molokai Community Service Council and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Community activist Walter Ritte, from the Molokai group Hui Ho’opakele Aina, talked about wind as being more than just a commodity but an “integral part of the heritage and culture of the Hawaiian people.”

“Understanding Molokai and her people will be critical if we are to avoid a train wreck in this wind initiative,” said Ritte.

While Ritte’s presentation neither rejected nor supported wind farms on Molokai, he did offer this caveat:

“ ‘Sharing’ has always been essential in the survival of our people on islands in the middle of the vast pacific, and so has ‘asking permission.’ The question for us on Molokai is will these windmills kill our island and culture or enhance it, are windmills a blessing or a curse? If the state and the profiteers treat Molokai the same way they have just treated the island of Lanai last week, then there will be no windmills on Molokai. We are willing to share, but no one is going to come and take. We are not stakeholders; we are ‘equal partners’ that need to be at the bargaining table and not at permit meetings and EIS meetings.

“The State legislature or administration needs to set up a mechanism that will allow the community of Molokai to come to agreements with the profiteers so the true costs of these windmills can be negotiated and agreed upon,” Ritte concluded.

Molokai student Shaquille Rapanot-McGuire, 17, presented his opposition to the wind farm proposal. “If they build windmills on Molokai it won’t be the same anymore, because we won’t be able to the thing we love and usually do,” said Rapanot-McGuire.

Karen Holt, director of the MCSC, presented a brief history on the environmental concerns of Molokai. The MCSC has been cooperating with First Wind for several years, including receiving a pledge from the Massachusetts company of $10.5 million for its Buy the Ranch campaign. The MCSC has proposed the purchase of Molokai Ranch lands with the idea of protecting these lands on Molokai’s West End while leasing back lands needed for a wind farm. Once First Wind receives sufficient returns on its investment, the plan would turn over the ownership of the windmills to the community.

First Wind first approached Molokai in 2006 to discuss the possibility of a wind farm. In April 2008 First Wind, then known as UPC Wind, held a series of community forums to determine the community’s interest and concerns about a wind farm. In 2007 The Molokai Dispatch newspaper conducted an online survey and found that 71 percent of the 484 who responded believe that windmills are “an environmentally responsible alternative to large scale development.”

First Wind is currently negotiating with Molokai Ranch on the terms of a wind farm. Wren Wescoatt, a First Wind representative from Molokai, said the project would not move forward unless the community wants it. If either the Molokai or Lanai project fails, it is possible that the turbines to produce 400 megawatts could be placed on one island.

As part of the environmental review process, public scoping meetings will be held statewide. On Molokai, a meeting on the PEIS will be Feb. 3 at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center.

Category: Hawaiian Culture, News, Sustainability

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