By Robin Kaye
Steve Morgan’s third article on the proposed Oahu wind power plant built on Lanai has unfortunately morphed into a Castle & Cooke press release. We are sorry to see his promised “objectivity” disappear. So please let me set the record straight for the benefit of your readers.
“How much land” will the Lanai wind power plant consume? (NOTE: it is NOT a “farm;” nothing will grow out of these turbines, and after 20 years, they die and are typically abandoned onsite.)
According to the only official Castle & Cooke (C&C) document (the Environmental Impact Statement/Preliminary Notice published in late 2008) the industrial power plant will consume up to 22,000 acres — ONE QUARTER OF LANAI. While they would like to have people think it’s only 12,000 acres, C&C’s official scope for this project identifies 22,000 acres as the project area. [Note: See Section 2.1 at this site:] http://oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/Shared%20Documents/EA_and_EIS_Online_Library/Lanai/2000s/2008-10-08-LA-FEA-EISPN-Lanai-Wind-Farm.pdf
In response to the question, “What benefits are being offered to the people of Lanai?” Mr. Morgan simply prints the list given by C&C, with a quote from C&C president Harry Saunders. This is old news, well-covered in the press, and as a result appears to be simply giving voice to C&C’s agenda, with no attempt to explore the relevancy of the items to the people of Lanai.
For example, what Mr. Morgan fails to mention is that two of the major components (and largest sums of money) in this C&C package — “watershed preservation” and “water infrastructure improvements” (fixing the pipes) are NOT considered by many who live here as “community benefits;” they are and should have been for the past 25 years, the obligations of the land owner. In 2008, the water system on Lanai lost 28 percent of the water produced through leaks (industry standard are 10-12 percent), and for the past 25 years, C&C has made minimal contributions to “watershed preservation.” Only now that they foresee enormous profits are they offering to do what they should have been doing for 25 years, and positioning this as a “community benefit.” This has outraged many Lanai residents.
Further, Mr. Morgan points to the levelizing of Lanai’s electric rates to those of Oahu. What Mr. Morgan fails to acknowledge is that only the Public Utilities Commission can set rates, and the levelizing notion only benefits Lanaians IF Oahu rates stay the same or decrease. This is highly unlikely, given the legislation introduced by HECO this session (SB367 and HB1176) that lays the costs of recovering the costs of building and owning the undersea cable on the backs of ratepayers, through “rate increases,” “automatic rate adjustments” and “surcharges” (SB 367/HB1176). Given the additional costs of infrastructure improvements on Oahu required to accept this intermittent power source, Oahu’s electric rates may rise to our level. The fact is, at this point no one knows, so this is an empty promise.
Response of the Lanai community?
Reporting on the survey from Lanaians for Sensitive Growth was helpful, for it shows the lack of community support for this project. But this survey is now over two years old, and was carried out when the community knew far less about the reach and irrevocable nature of this proposed industrial power plant.
The results would be far different today. In the interim, “No Windmills” signs have proliferated, groups have organized to better educate the community, and “anti” industrial wind power plant activities and sign waving have further focused the members of the community. Clearly the community is divided: some, mostly small business owners who lease their properties from C&C, hope that the project will generate a serious set of benefits. Some, like the ILWU officials, are erroneously informing their workers that this project will provide jobs while even HECO has publicly disputed this.
Others believe Castle & Cooke’s argument that, despite long-standing evidence to the contrary, “what is good for C&C is good for Lanai” and that if we do not accept this degradation to our island, “we will be just like Molokai.” (Many Lanaians take this as a compliment, rather than the fear tactic C&C wishes it to be.)
Still others, like Friends of Lanai, believe that there are NO benefits to justify this permanent, irrevocable destruction of one quarter of this beautiful, historic land.
“Is there a governing body …” There is one “governing” body on Lanai that might have a say in this project, since the Lanai Planning Commission will need to review the required SMA (Special Management Area) permit. While the SMA process is designed to protect our shorelines and beaches by providing a strong voice to residents in each SMA, one C&C renewable energy management official informed a group of Lanaians that, in order to avoid the one Lanai governing body’s deliberations on this project, the company was actually exploring the option of tunneling under the beach and surfacing on land “outside” the SMA. So much for home rule.
I hope that the fourth installment of Mr. Morgan’s coverage of Big Wind will revert to the objectivity of his first two, and leave behind the simple recitation of C&C’s views.