Molokai Ranch has spoken and the speculation can end: The company which owns the majority of West End land will use the wind developer Pattern Energy Group if and when a large wind farm project comes to Molokai.
Peter Nicholas, president and CEO of Molokai Properties Limited, explained Molokai Ranch’s position to an audience of several hundred curious Molokai residents last night at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center. He then turned the floor over to representatives of Pattern Energy Group, which presented its proposal for Molokai — including a 3D computer-generated graphic image of what an array of 90 windmills on Molokai might look like — and then fielded audience questions.
With the State intent on developing a billion dollar inter-island undersea transmission cable to help meet its goal of achieving 70 percent clean energy by 2030, Molokai Ranch felt compelled to come up with a plan. Nicholas said the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism told him the State could condemn its land under eminent domain law if they don’t agree on a project.
“The governor mentioned this as imperative,” said Nicholas. “The ramifications of condemnation are not particularly nice to anyone, it hurts everyone.”
According to Nicholas, DBEDT had been planning a large wind energy project with Hawaii Electric Company between 2008 and 2010 but never consulted Molokai Ranch. Nicholas had no explanation for this lack of communication. Now that MPL is being pressured by the State to use its land for a proposed 200-megawatt wind project (or possibly 400 mw depending on whether the Castle and Cooke project on Lanai proceeds) the time has come to update the community and seek its input.
To build an undersea cable to transmit energy from Molokai and Lanai to Oahu, a required Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is being conducted by the State and the U.S. Department of Energy. At the Feb. 3 PEIS public scoping meeting at the same location, the community showed strong opposition to the project. The lack of information from DBEDT, HECO or the DOE frustrated the audience almost as much as the inability to get questions answered under the public scoping format.
But last night’s meeting was a different situation. Clear, detailed information was provided and audience questions were asked, and sometimes answered. Unfortunately, many of the questions regarding project alternatives needed to be addressed to State officials and could not be answered by either MPL or Pattern Energy.
“I don’t think you can leave out the community in this project,” said Nicholas, in explaining his reason for holding the meeting. Nicholas made it clear that no decision has been made and that community input was crucial for the company to reach a position.
David Parquet — director of solar, transmission and fossil development for Pattern Energy Group — along with his team, took the floor and presented a slide show showing a preliminary plan. About 90 400-foot tall windmills would span 11,000 acres both south and north of Maunaloa. In actuality, only 2 percent, or 220 acres, would be occupied by windmills.
Pattern Energy, a North American company, has completed successful wind energy projects in Texas, Puerto Rico, Chile and Canada, among other places. A total of 25 projects totaling more than 2,300 mw of wind power have been completed. The company’s stated strategy is to expand its operating assets by 300 to 400 mw of wind generation capacity each year.
It would cost Pattern Energy about $500 million to construct this project on Molokai, with the money being returned to them by HECO over 20 years through a power purchase agreement.
Parquet emphasized his company’s desire to work with the community. “We need to understand you as much as you need to understand us,” he said. Parquet said this project would “pay rigorous attention” to matters of soil runoff, water pollution and other environmental concerns. He also discussed wildlife and cultural concerns. “These technologies need to be informed by people’s concerns,” he said.
To show his company’s sensitivity to the potential impact of these huge windmills, Parquet explained how a decommissioning bond would be placed with a bank that would cover the cost of removing the windmills at the end of their useful life.
Pattern Energy has already ruled out using the windswept land along northwest Molokai near Ilio Point in order to protect this cultural site.
Nicholas made it clear that none of the land in question would be sold to Pattern Energy or anyone else and would be offered only on a lease basis.
If this project does go forward, Pattern Energy would place meteorological towers in the proposed areas for about one year to collect data to determine the best location. Existing roads, in conjunction with some new service roads, would bring in the equipment.
Pattern Energy would bring in 200 to 300 workers for this project, along with any needed infrastructure. Once completed, the project would create 10 to 20 local jobs to maintain the windmills.
Before any of this can begin, the PEIS must be completed (anticipated to be April 2012) and then a 12-18 month long EIS on this specific project.
“This meeting is the first step in a long process,” said Nicholas.
A similar meeting will be held tonight at the Maunaloa Recreation Center and tomorrow night at Kilohana School. Both meetings begin at 5:30 p.m.