If there was any doubt whether or not Molokai residents want to be part of the largest wind power development in Hawaii history, last night’s meeting at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center was pretty conclusive: NOT!
The meeting was the second of three meetings this week organized by Pattern Energy and Biological Capital, which have recently formed the exploratory group Molokai Renewables LLC to study the feasibility of bringing a 200-megawatt wind turbine generating project to Molokai.
The community attitude toward this group of wind developers was perhaps best summed up by Kanohowailuku Helm, one of the organizers of the opposition group I Aloha Moloka’i (IAM): “Just go!”
The passionate emotions and frustrations felt by those opposed to this project came to the surface in shout outs that threatened any order to the meeting. Exclamations of, “stop lying!”, “speak clearly!” and “what about ‘no’ don’t you understand!” were heard when the audience was not satisfied with a given explanation.
A central question that led to the numerous outbursts involved the true intentions of Pattern Energy. The question: Would Pattern Energy recommend to the State of Hawaii an alternative to Big Wind if they determined that the Molokai community overwhelmingly opposed the project? “Listen to OUR truth,” implored the questioner.
After much equivocating, a representative of Pattern Energy said, “If the community doesn’t support this it will not happen.” This answer was met with boisterous applause.
Intended as a question-and-answer meeting, the Pattern Energy people had a hard time providing answers that satisfied the audience. Unanswered questions regarding costs, carrying capacity of the undersea transmission cable, and the community benefits package just led to further frustration.
“We simply don’t know,” admitted one Pattern Energy rep when questioned about how much electricity could be attained from a 200-mw project. Pattern Energy offered what they called “reasonable estimates” of 40 percent energy loss, with an additional 5 percent lost in transmission. Molokai would therefore generate 650-mw of energy for Oahu, Pattern estimated.
These figures were roundly disputed by many, including longtime Molokai resident Michael Bond, who said he has spent 30 years in the energy development business. He is now an active member of IAM. “They will be lucky to get 20 percent (capacity factor),” said Bond. He cited output figures of 19 to 24 percent carrying capacity from projects in the United Kingdom.
Bond also explained how the intermittent nature of a wind-powered generating plant requires oil as a backup, defeating the purpose of this project, to get Hawaii off its dependence on fossil fuels.
Federal tax write-offs and subsidies to help pay for the estimated $2.3 billion cost of this project also infuriated audience members.
“Why put money in this if it’s never been profitable in Hawaii?” asked Molokai resident Cheryl Corbiel. “Where is the study showing that wind is appropriate for Molokai?” Corbiel inquired. “There really is no study of the cost/benefit for this project,” she added.
Pattern Energy referred to an independent study by Navigant Consulting as a source for much of their information. At the same time, company reps freely admitted that more data is needed and will be acquired, largely in the form of meteorological tower studies on Molokai. It will take one year to collect met tower data before any project can even be proposed.
Concerns over the environmental impact to the reefs and the land also led to more infuriation from Molokai kama’aina.
Robbie Alm, executive vice president of Hawaii Electric Company, was the only person in attendance representing a party to this project outside of Pattern Energy. While he would not express his own opinion of the project’s viability, he did discuss HECO’s mandate to reduce Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuels by 70 percent by the year 2030.
“There have been objections from the public to every energy project ever put forward,” said Alm.
Alm went on to say that HECO is looking at a wide variety of clean, renewable energy sources including biofuels, geothermal, biomass and solar. “We are not saying ‘no’ to anything,” he said.
When questioned about the 15 percent renewable energy penetration limit that has been reached on the Kaunakakai circuit, Alm said a new report on this problem will be issued by HECO in July. At this time no new solar energy projects can be installed because of the potential instability this could cause the power grid.
Colette Machado, chairperson for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said that the State of Hawaii, not OHA, will decide if wind farms can be built on Hawaiian ceded lands. She did add that the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has publicly stated its policy of no wind farms on homestead land. Personally, Machado said, “I can’t see us (Molokai) being an industrial wasteland for Oahu.”
Others spoke about Oahu needing to take a greater role in energy conservation and in providing its own solutions for feeding its energy appetite.
The process for deciding the fate of Big Wind is still in the early stages. A preliminary Environmental Impact Statement has not even been drafted yet by the U.S. Department of Energy. Until this is completed in April of 2012, the feasibility of building an undersea transmission cable connecting Molokai and Lanai to Oahu, and possibly Maui, cannot be determined.
At this time, Molokai Renewables has an agreement with West End landowner Molokai Ranch that would allow them to lease the land needed for a wind farm if the project goes forward. They also have an agreement with Castle and Cooke to use 200-mw of its wind energy allocation for the project on Molokai. The project would have Pattern Energy sell back the generated electricity to HECO under a Power Purchase Agreement.
Pattern Energy reps repeatedly expressed their sincere belief in this project. “We also believe that this project could provide significant community benefits and economic opportunities for Molokai.”
Based on last night’s meeting, the company has a long way to go if they hope to change the hearts and minds of Molokai on this project.
The final meeting for this week will be tonight at Kilohana Elementary School at 6 p.m.