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.
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.