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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 18, 2005

HECO proposes wind farm

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

A Hawaiian Electric Co. photo illustration shows what a wind farm might look like from the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa at Ko Olina.




HECO has scheduled three public meetings to discuss a proposal for a wind energy farm above the Kahe power plant.
  • 7-9 p.m. tomorrow, J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa at Ko Olina, Ocean Ballroom I, 92-1001 'Olani St., Ko Olina
  • 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Kapolei High School cafeteria, 91-5007 Kapolei Parkway, Kapolei
  • 7-9 p.m. Thursday, old Nanaikapono Elementary School cafeteria, 89-195 Farrington Highway, Nanakuli
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    Hawaiian Electric Co. wants to find out whether O'ahu residents — tired of paying electricity prices that are among the highest in the nation — are ready for another go at wind power as a means of reducing the state's reliance on oil.

    HECO has completed a yearlong study of the ridges above the Kahe power plant and determined that the area gets enough strong, steady winds and provides enough accessible, flat land to sustain a 24- to 26-turbine wind farm.

    Now the utility wants the public's thoughts. Meeting are scheduled tomorrow through Thursday at three Leeward O'ahu locations to lay out the possibilities for the alternative-energy farm and hear the reaction.

    "I like the way HECO is approaching this," said William Aila, Leeward community activist. "They are finding out first if there is enough wind power that can be harnessed in an economically viable way, and then they are asking the residents what they have to say. It's refreshing."

    Jo Jordan, of the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board, said she plans to go to the meetings, listen to the plan and see whether it adds up.

    "If it is ungodly to look at up there, well, how much power does it generate? Does it balance out?" she said. "I'm not sure what I'm going to think about it until I hear their presentation, but I guess we've got to look at energy sources other than the barrel. We live on a rock and we're building all those big new houses with air conditioning."

    The new windmills have a tall, slender profile and move more slowly than earlier generations, including those that once operated in Kahuku when the state made an early and unsuccessful foray 20 years ago into harnessing wind power, said HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg.

    The Kahuku windmills — cutting-edge technology in the mid-1980s — were installed on a military reservation atop a ridge, just before the price of oil bottomed out, making the costs of ironing out kinks at the wind farm seem prohibitive. The turbines were dismantled.

    The newer windmills are designed to appear thinner and more graceful.

    "They stand about 380 feet tall from the ground to the top edge of the upper propeller," Rosegg said. "The tower is about 10 feet across at the base and tapers up about 265 feet to the nacelle."

    Three propeller blades, each about 115 feet from hub to tip, extend from the nacelle like blades on a household fan. The nacelle is about the size of a lunch wagon or FedEx delivery truck, he said.

    The Kahe wind farm would be spread along 100 to 150 acres of land with enough space between the windmills to allow for other uses, such as grazing cows, which is what the land is used for now.

    Rosegg said the turbines are relatively quiet, so residents are unlikely to be disturbed by the noise. The slower movement of the propellers, in addition to making them appear less frantic, also make them less dangerous to birds than older-model turbines.

    They have no emissions or health concerns, he said, so the major objection the windmills are likely to provoke would be over their appearance.

    "They are visible," Rosegg said. "They will be visible from Ko Olina. They will be visible from Nanakuli. With 26 of these things, they will be visible from much of the Leeward Coast."

    On the other hand, when operating at full capacity, 26 turbines would generate up to 39 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 10,000 homes.

    Jordon, the neighborhood board member, thought that number sounded fairly impressive.

    "Ten thousand? That's a lot," she said. "H-Power does 45,000." H-Power is Honolulu's other alternative-energy source; it burns rubbish to create electricity.

    Aila said he and a small group of Leeward community leaders who have been outspoken about cultural issues in the past were consulted by HECO early in the process of looking into the wind farm.

    "They asked us what concerns we might have — what cultural sites might be of concern," he said.

    "I can tell you there is a silhouette of the Hawaiian god, Maui, on that mountain side," he said.

    Maui, in Polynesian mythology, lassoed the sun when his mother complained it made its trek across the sky too rapidly.

    Aila said he is not sure to what degree the windmills might interfere with the silhouette, but hopes HECO will address the matter in its presentations.

    He is also concerned about any dangers the moving propellers might cause to birds. An earlier generation of California turbines — with faster-moving blades — proved fatal to some of that state's migratory fowl and birds of prey.

    Aila hopes to learn more about the sounds the windmills would make and the way they would look from different communities with different views of the ridge.

    "On the one hand," he said, "wind energy is a very good thing. On the other hand, we need to see what the impact is. I don't think anyone in the community has made up their minds. I think we are all taking a wait-and-see attitude."

    Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawai'i chapter, said he thinks wind power's time has come.

    "In the big picture, it is a welcome addition to our energy portfolio, which should include solar, wave and biomass," he said. "It's exciting to see Hawaiian Electric Co. get into this technology."

    Wind farms in operation or under construction on the Big Island and Maui have been well received, he said.

    "When considering environmental impact in Hawai'i, visual is never the least of our concerns," Mikulina said.

    "But look at Holland and Palm Springs: They put their windmills on postcards. And when you get down to it, almost anything is more attractive than an oil-fired power plant."

    Correction: The last name of Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board member Jo Jordan was misspelled in a previous version of this story.