Against the wind: Community expresses distrust of process that would bring wind farms to Molokai

| February 4, 2011 | 0 Comments

Value of PEIS process questioned inside and outside public scoping meeting for undersea power cable project.

If the community members attending last night’s public scoping meeting have anything to say about it, undersea transmission cables will never carry wind-generated electricity from Molokai to Oahu.

Walter Ritte and his protesters explain their reasons for boycotting last night's public scoping meeting.

Those offering public comment at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center gave a resounding “no” to the proposal known as the Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program (HIREP). With the unanimous rejection of this project, the only real question remaining is whether or not the voice of the Molokai community carries enough influence with state and federal officials to stop this billion-dollar project.

But the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) will continue to move forward for at least another year as it determines if the undersea cable, proposed to carry 400 megawatts of wind-generated electricity from Lanai and/or Molokai to Oahu, is the best solution to meet Hawaii’s future energy needs.

Statements issued by the HIREP say that the undersea cable being proposed is “vitally important to achieve the goal of 70 percent clean energy by the year 2030. It will enable the production of at least 14 percent of the power we need to meet the 40 percent renewable energy goal, significantly cutting Hawaii’s dependence on imported fuel.”

An unofficial meeting last week helped educate the public on the project and the process involved. Local activist Walter Ritte, who organized that meeting, made it clear that he does not trust the PEIS process and would boycott yesterday’s meeting.

True to his word, Ritte and his supporters could be seen holding signs and asking for a Hawaiian process. Last week, Ritte challenged the ‘Aha Ki’ole — the state recognized Hawaiian council — to step in and work with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to create a Hawaiian process that empowers Molokai to control its own resources.

“The process is stacked against us,” said Ritte, while holding a sign that read “Hawaiian Way or No Way.” “We’ve been doing this for 30 years and it just doesn’t work.”

Others attending the meeting, including Molokai Planning Commissioner Lori Buchanan, also questioned the legitimacy of the process. “They (officials from the U.S. Department of Energy and the State of Hawaii) are not required to answer questions from the scoping,” said Buchanan. “We want to be major players in all this but we are not, we are rubbish, we are nothing.”

“We have a million questions,” said Buchanan, “but until you guys come back and let us ask questions we are wasting our time.”

Dawn Chang, facilitator for the meeting, explained that no questions would be answered during the scoping process, which ends March 1. The public comments will be considered in a draft PEIS, which will be prepared for release by the fall or by the end of the year. A 45-day comment period on the draft will allow questions to be asked that will be answered prior to a final PEIS. By April of 2012 a final PEIS will be released and await a record of decision.

“We’ve been through this a thousand times,” said Ritte. “ ‘What are your concerns? Thank you, we’ll mitigate ‘em all,’ and they do the project.”

If the federal PEIS does receive approval, a state-level EIS would then begin to consider a specific project for Molokai.

First Wind, the Massachusetts-based wind power company, already approached the West End homestead community to secure land for a wind farm. After two years of negotiations the homesteaders rejected the proposals. Now First Wind only has Molokai Ranch land to consider for a site. Peter Nicholas, CEO of Molokai Properties Limited, Molokai Ranch’s owner, said last week at the Molokai Planning Commission meeting that no deal has been made with First Wind. He also said that MPL would come to the Molokai community within the next month “to see what it wants” in regards to wind farms.

If last night’s speakers were representative of the community as a whole, it’s pretty clear what it wants. After Buchanan, another 20 people paraded to the front of the room to ask questions and express their serious reservations about placing an army of monolithic wind towers along the northwest coast of Molokai.

Specific concerns raised in the comments included the impact on the coral reef shelves, the erosion of the land, depletion of the aquifer and ground water, the sustainability of wind power and the role of the military in this project.

If this is an Oahu problem, many people asked, than why not let the people there figure it out? What is being done to push conservation and reduce Oahu’s insatiable appetite for electricity? Some asked why wind power is considered the answer.

“This is old technology,” said Cheryl Corbiell of the Molokai Land Trust. “Why not put one billion dollars to put up solar panels?” she asked rhetorically. “Because it will put HECO (Hawaii Electric Company) out of business … this is really about big business.”

Chairman of the Molokai Planning Commission, Steve Chaikin, said that this project is about helping Oahu expand. “Honolulu is addicted to development,” he said. “This isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning. I see Molokai becoming an industrial suburb of Oahu … Exactly how is Molokai going to be part of the decision-making process?”

Given the lack of trust in the PEIS process, and First Wind’s inability to secure any kind of land rights, HIREP faces stiff headwinds if it expects to get wind farms on Molokai.

Category: Hawaiian Culture, News, Sustainability

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  1. slu says:

    The environmental impact of wind towers on Molokai will be like a nuclear detonation on our way of life. Nothing will be untouched. Oahu needs to fix its own problems and not ask us to do it…their demand for power is insatiable and it will never be enough.

  2. molokainews says:

    slu: Your comments here were echoed strongly at Thursday’s meeting. It doesn’t seem like this project has any local support.

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