By David Lichtenstein
An agreement over the weekend between Castle & Cooke and San Francisco-based Pattern Energy could pave the way for 200-megawatt wind farms projects on Lanai and Molokai.
According to the Star Advertiser newspaper, this agreement pushes the Massachusetts-based company First Wind out of the wind development business on both islands. First Wind missed a crucial March 18 deadline with the Public Utilities Commission to secure the necessary land for the project.
West End landowner Molokai Ranch could not reach an agreement to either sell or lease the required land to First Wind. At a March 2 meeting in Kaunakakai, Molokai Ranch clearly expressed its preference to work with Pattern Energy, which presented its plan and fielded questions at three separate Molokai meetings.
Now that Castle & Cooke, the majority landowner on Lanai, has entered into an agreement with Pattern Energy, it appears that a coordinated plan is beginning to come into focus. Currently, a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is being prepared that would create the blueprint for a Big Wind project to transmit up to 400-mw of electrical energy via an undersea cable to Oahu.
But what do Lanai and Molokai get out of all this?
The recent Star Advertiser story does not consider the Molokai or Lanai communities in its assessment of the project. Big Wind is an initiative of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the Hawaiian Electric Company designed to help the state reach its clean energy goal of providing 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
However, based on comments presented at recent public meetings on this issue, there seems to be lots of questions and little support for Big Wind. And despite Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s assertion that he would use eminent domain action if necessary, he also said he would not go against the desires of the community on this issue. “The project must represent the majority interests of residents of the respective islands,” wrote Abercrombie.
How a consensus of both island’s “majority interests” can be found has yet to be determined. While promises of lower electric rates, jobs and infrastructure improvements have been made, it is still unclear exactly what the community benefits of this monstrous project will look like.
Until a clear and enforceable benefits package is put on the table, it remains to be seen if the community wants this project or not. Even if the technological and environmental hurdles of this project can be overcome, it must ultimately be a decision of the people of both Lanai and Molokai.
If we are to hold our governor to his word, the state must offer a path to reach a clear community consensus for both islands. Whether this happens through a traditional Hawaiian process like the ‘Aha Ki’ole or a more modern process (electronic ballots), reaching a consensus that reflects the desire of the individual islands is the only way to make this project pono.