Opinion: Don’t believe everything you read about Big Wind

| February 24, 2011 | 0 Comments

By Robin Kaye

We applaud Steve Morgan for trying to educate your readers on the proposed industrial wind power plants targeted for both Molokai and Lanai (and perhaps Maui as well). And we hope that his intentions of objectivity continue to guide his writing.

There are a number of related issues we would like to raise for The Molokai News’ readers.

Abandoned turbines on Big Island.

First, we’d like them to have a better understanding of the much-touted Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI). HCEI was passed under the Lingle administration and set a number of goals for getting Hawaii off of fossil fuels.

It might help to first know that 70 percent of the fossil fuel imported to Hawaii goes for transportation (airplanes, ships, automobiles, etc.) while the remaining 30 percent is for electricity. HCEI sets some remarkable goals — making Hawaii energy 70 percent renewable by 2030, with 30 percent of that change coming from “conservation.”

But it is also important to know that the proposed 400 megawatt (MW) Big Wind project, would, due to the wind’s intermittent nature, only provide 10 percent of Oahu’s electrical needs. Only 10 percent.

The state’s legislation, HRS269-92, lays out these goals and raises the possibility of penalties for HECO should they not meet those goals. What is equally important to realize, however, is that all those penalties are subject to waiver — in fact, there could be NO penalties at all for HECO. But if there are penalties imposed, the law makes it quite clear that those penalties must be paid FROM SHAREHOLDER FUNDS ONLY; they cannot be passed on to ratepayers. And so we ask: Could that be why HECO is pushing so hard for Big Wind?

On Lanai, Friends of Lanai unequivocally opposes this industrial wind power plant. We cannot see that in exchange for providing 10 percent of Oahu’s electrical needs, one quarter of our island would be grossly disfigured — and most likely destroyed. The view planes, which Molokai and Lanai residents see every day would be permanently altered by 170 turbines, each 100 feet longer than a football field, each as tall as the tallest building in our state — the First Hawaiian Bank Building in Honolulu.

Here’s a scale drawing of just one such turbine:

There are many environmental issues to consider with this mammoth project, starting with the proposed undersea cable. Much has been written about the supposed safety of this transmission line. Yet similar words must surely have been written about the undersea cable carrying Oceanic Cable’s transmissions that broke mid-channel last year.

Everything is “unbreakable” — until it breaks. The cable, we’re told, will only be laid during the seasons when the humpback whales are not in Hawaii. What if the cable breaks during whale season? Will they wait to repair it when no whales are present? Is there any danger to marine life should the cable be accidentally sliced in two?

The EIS is supposed to address these issues, but the EIS process is years from completion.

Recently, one of the largest reported colonies of the endangered Hawaiian Petrel (U’au) was found on Lanai hale, and the developer’s own study indicated the possibility of massive “kills” of this bird as it flies directly through the proposed site. Just imagine: these birds travel long distances at night, choosing Lanai as their home because of the absence of light. With the wind power plant, there will be 170 bright flashing red aviation warning lights (like the lights just found to be detrimental to birds on Kauai) scattered directly in their flight path. And the spinning blades — their diameter will be equal to the full length of a Boeing 747.

We on Molokai and Lanai frequently hear from HECO (and on Lanai, as well from Castle & Cooke) that this industrial wind power plant will “guarantee” our electric rates to be equal to Oahu’s. There are two problems with accepting that as fact: 1) HECO, Castle & Cooke, even First Wind do NOT set electric rates. They are set by the Public Utilities Commission; and 2) no one is talking about how much O’ahu’s rates will go UP to pay for the cable and the grid work on O’ahu.

Two bills recently approved by two House and two Senate committees authorize HECO to pass on all the costs associated with the cable to “ratepayers.” So, before our two islands’ rates are equaled to Oahu’s, theirs are likely to be substantially raised. The conversation about “levelized” rates is both premature and deceptive.

There are many dates floating around regarding the timelines for this proposed Big Wind project. At a recent Senate hearing, the U.S. Department of Energy representative said it would probably not be online until 2020. DBEDT and HECO have told the public that the required EISs won’t be completed until sometime in 2014 or 2015, and then the permitting process takes at least another year. And all that assumes the absence of litigation or the impact of community opposition.

Too many of the recent articles in Honolulu’s print and online media have simply copied the press releases and announcements of Hawaiian Electric (HECO), Castle & Cooke (C&C), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the State’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT.) These agencies and businesses are all unabashed PROPONENTS of Big Wind, so their words only reflect what they want the public to believe. But despite their optimism, and their desire to paint this industrial wind power plant for Oahu but built on Molokai and Lanai, this is NOT an inevitable project. It is no more inevitable than the long-gone Superferry.

Here’s an example of that kind of press coverage. Of the myriad stories about HECO and C&C’s recently announced “community” benefits package, only our neighboring Maui News bothered to speak with ANY community member for their reactions and input. [Note: This and other related articles can be found on our website: www.friendsoflanai.org.]

This package was HECO’s and C&C’s thinking for our community; it was NOT the community’s benefits package. The announcement indicated that it reflected conversations with, among others, Friends of Lanai. Had any reporter asked FOL if that were true, they would have learned that since its inception two years ago, the position of FOL has consistently been this — there are NO benefits that justify taking one-quarter of Lanai for an industrial wind power plant for Oahu. Period.

Further, if you look closely at that package, you will quickly see that the two largest “community benefits” were to help preserve the watershed and to fix our leaking water delivery pipes (which currently lose about 25 percent of our precious water through leaky pipes.) No one thought to ask why were those two offerings not considered as the landowner’s responsibility and obligation for the past 25 years? Why only now offer to help preserve our only aquifer? But no one asked.

So, to our neighbors on Molokai and Maui, we say keep asking the hard questions. Keep insisting that the “powers” listen to you — and to us. The government officials who are promoting all this won’t be here forever, but our keiki and our history will be.

Robin Kaye is an organizer for Friend’s of Lanai, a group that exists to give voice to the many Lanai residents who strongly oppose the Oahu industrial wind power plant on Lanai.

Category: Hawaiian Culture, News, opinion, Sustainability

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  1. Local group organizes to halt Big Wind project « Molokainews's Blog | June 14, 2011
  1. Steve Morgan says:

    I thank you for entering into this conversation. My ultimate purpose in this column was to get a serious dialogue going on Molokai. Many concerns that you raise must be acknowledged on our island as well. There is too much to respond to, but here are a few points-

    For myself, I find the cable cutting argument less compelling. What is more likely is the fraying of the cable, say for example where the cable might be hanging over a rock ledge. This has not been uncommon (as was the case in the Kiwi channel in Japan) although an earlier generation of cable was used. I have been trying to locate any examples of serious negative impacts in the past that were the result of power cable fraying, or as you suggest, a cut cable, but have yet to find something remarkable That does not mean that serious problems don’t exist however, just that I am not aware of them. The most notable impact seems to be damage upon coral reefs. It seems as though the newer generation of cable (Furakawa Co.) does address this issue seriously. Is it up to par? I don’t know.

    As far as bird life goes, yes there is impact. Supporters of windmills would argue however that less birds are killed from windmills than that of conventional energy. Statistically,wind farms are responsible for less than .5 fatalities per GWh of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GWh- at least 10 times more fatalities than wind farm based electricity. The number of birds killed by wind turbines is also negligible when compared to the number that die as a result of other activities In the U.S. Estimates claim that Wind turbines kill 70,000 birds per year, compared to 80,000 killed by aircraft, 57 million killed by cars, 98 million killed by collisions with plate glass, and hundreds of millions killed by cats. An article in Nature stated that each wind turbine kills an average of 4.27 birds per year. The National Audubon Society in the U.S. takes a position, broadly supporting wind power to help mitigate global warming, while cautioning against wind farms in areas especially important to birds and other affected wildlife. Certainly numbers are relative, and the uniqueness of the birdlife has to be weighed into this equation.

    What tends to strike me more than anything on Lanai is the sheer volume of space that would be used for this project, one quarter of your island! This is extremely significant and impossible to ignore!

    In regard to the extinct windmills that you show photos of, I have seen these same rotting windmills at South Point. This has consistently been a promise by First Wind, that the windmills on Lanai or Molokai would be dismantled if they are no longer in use, but as I mentioned before, what if there is no First Wind. Will the State assume this responsibility? What reliable guarantee do we have?

    Despite everything I have said, at this point I would also be opposed to windmills on Lanai. For Molokai I remained unresolved until all of the chips are laid on the table.

    As you are aware of, most of the content in that which I have reported has come for the agencies attempting to develop this system. The reports are not strikingly inconsistent with that which is globally being accepted and practiced, so in the larger scheme of things I take what is said at face value.

    What bothers me more so is the lack of respect and the serious lack of dialogue with our communities. This is offensive and makes our community suspicious.

    In separating fact from fiction we must recognize the political momentum that exists and we must weigh out the genuine negative impacts from the benefits. And we must ask ourselves “What if oil goes up to $500 a barrel? And then we have to ask ourselves if this proposed system will actually solve that problem? That’s it for now…..mahalo

  2. Susan Osako says:

    1. 80% of our oil comes from Canada
    2. The US has more oil reserves than all of the Middle East. A new drilling technique will allow us to tap oil in fragile eco systems with little chance of pollution
    3. Friends in Spain, France and Germany tell me that mega wind farms in their countries have proven to be unsatisfactory and have not delivered as promised. They are being abandoned.
    4. We will be paying more than $500 a barrel cost of a barrel of oil for this mega wind farm.
    5. While we waste resources on the wind farm, we are not exploring more efficient ways of generating clean electricity.
    6. The taxpayers will fund this project directly and indirectly. We will have a financial burden that will create poverty through a burden of debt that will last for generations
    7. We will have lost 1/4 of our island…a heritage site which is like a ‘living’ museum of Hawaiian artifacts.
    We will have lost a way of life forever and be the poorer for it.
    8. Contact T.Boone Pickens………a billionaire who abandoned his wind farms in Texas as being unsustainable.
    9. If the same amount of money that it will cost to build the mega wind farms here was used to provide solar voltaic and solar water heaters to every house on Oahu………we would have the same savings in fuel…..actually probably more……and it could be up and running in a few years. Local people and companies would reap the fuel as well as financial benefits and our state and people would not be drowning in debt.
    Follow the money. The mega wind farms are about the profits for everyone but the people of Hawaii. Its not about Green energy….its about Green Greed.

  3. slu says:

    I think we have to consider the shear monstrosity of these structures and and the infrastructure that their construction and maintenance will require.

    400 feet tall with massive concrete bases and roadways cut into the land to support the huge trucks required to transport the parts that go into them and the huge cranes that will be required to erect them. Where will the rock and concrete to build the bases come from. Will Oahu steal our stone like they stole our sand?

    Does anyone imagine that the current Molokai infrastructure will support that? Many changes will have to be made that start at the wharf and extend to the sites. Much would need to come in by air…is our airport up to the traffic and the cargo planes? Will it need to be expanded? These changes will impact every person on Molokai, East or West.

    A key factor here is the relatively small proportion of the State’s total energy that will be provided by the proposed plan and who will bear the costs. Make no mistake: billions of dollars are going to be made on this project which will ultimately be paid by the consumer. MPL, First Wind, HECO and all the big corporations that fabricate and erect the windmills are going to profit enormously at our expense. Do you imagine that the politicians that support the project are doing it just to be good citizens? What do they get? Do we get any say in it at all or do we just get to pay with our energy and tax dollars? Will this project be enough or is it just the foot in the door?

    One of our most precious resources on Molokai is the least conspicuous: the quiet; the peace and silence to hear your own thoughts. The silence that exists where these giants are planned is a gift that can never be assigned a dollar value. Our children will forever be denied that silence. They may never even know what they lost. Can we steal that from them for a few dollars saved on our electric bill?

  4. mkklolo says:

    As for corporate promises, Hello! Are our memories so short that the broken promises of MPL to provide water to the land it sold are forgotten?

    It isn’t that MPL is a strangely evil corporate citizen. ANYcorporation will forget its promises given the right economics. Any corporation can go belly up, get purchased by foreign interests, or fall under the leadership of greedy and venal persons. They can always find an attorney who will tell them that it’s OK to break a promise and if he’s good, the courts may go along. Any corporation is about money and how much can be made for the stockholders and especially, for the corporate officers. Corporations are like a shovel or an axe, a man-made tool that has no morality on its own.

    Promises are made to be broken!

  5. Brian Brooks says:

    There are many discussions about the technical merits of this project, which in itself may be missing the point.

    To the people of Hawai’i, and others involved, please consider and ask yourself this in regard to the proposed partial solution to Oahu’s power hunger.

    Moloka’i is the birthplace of Hula and a land of healing spirit, some say the spiritual center of Hawaii. It still contains that beauty today. Should we be so willing to deface the land and build such mechanical monsters on Moloka’i, for such a small gain of electric power? Will the gain truly be worth what will be lost?

    My belief is that the loss would be far greater than the gain. The aloha spirit shines far brighter than a light bulb, do you wish to diminish that which truly defines Hawai’i?

    There are other solutions and technology continues to progress – an example not far away, conversion to LED lightning. A common sense consideration – fewer streetlights. The oil reduction sought could be focused on where it is most used – more effective transportation, less cars. There are better choices.


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