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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 28, 2010

Giant wind project will damage Läna'i

By Robin Kaye

Editorials from The Honolulu Advertiser. Advocacy articles from Gov. Linda Lingle's director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and a vice president for Hawaiian Electric Co. Radio shows with state legislators and bureaucratic advocates — all in support of wind power plants to be built on the islands of Läna'i and Moloka'i.

There is, however, another perspective to this story that is really about generating enormous profits for a Mainland-based, privately held company while severely damaging a large portion of Läna'i.

HECO may benefit from this project — they'll have more energy to sell to meet an ever-increasing demand for their product. O'ahu developers, business owners and residents may benefit — they can continue to consume electricity at an ever-increasing, conservation-avoiding pace.

And of course the big winner is California's David Murdock. The owner of 98 percent of Läna'i stands to personally profit (since he now owns privately the previously public Castle & Cooke) by developing a power plant with a free source of fuel.

It's a great project for him; while he'll have some serious upfront costs, once built and operating his costs are minor. At best 15 to 20 permanent employees will be required. On the other hand, taxpayers and ratepayers will be required to share the costs of this $3 billion project — about $2,000 per Hawai'i resident.

Take a minute to look at those costs. Assuming an average cost of $40,000 for installing photovoltaic panels on the average Hawai'i house, $3 billion dollars could cover 75,000 homes. Or, 428,000 homes could have solar hot water.

All the writers and commentators these past few weeks have also paid homage to the democratic ideal of community involvement.

The state's renewable energy facilitator has been on Läna'i several times, as have officials from HECO. But speaking out on this island presents many challenges to the residents.

Hard as it may be for others to believe today, one person — Murdock — owns many of the homes we live in (about one third of homes in Lana'i City are still owned by Castle & Cooke) and owns one of the three major grocery stores. He also owns 99 percent of the commercial spaces available for businesses — and is still the major employer on Läna'i.

Like many of the battles over development in Hawai'i, who speaks for the land? Who will safeguard the hundreds of cultural and archaeological treasures that cover the area on Läna'i now targeted for destruction to make way for O'ahu's wind power plant?

Some proponents of this electricity generator for O'ahu argue that the Läna'i community should agree to this — should in fact welcome it — because it can generate significant community benefits. But how does a small community ensure that any new benefits promised in exchange for the irrevocable damage to our land will be enforced? Who will pay the attorney fees required to enforce any nonperformance? What if Castle & Cooke is sold, or goes bankrupt?

So, let's try and frame the discussion of this project from a slightly different perspective. Do Hawai'i residents want to give Murdock and Castle & Cooke an annual profit of potentially millions of dollars with no guarantee that any of this profit will stay in Hawai'i, yet alone benefit Läna'i? Do we want to completely and irrevocably damage a large swath of Läna'i that has helped maintain the lifestyle most O'ahu residents bemoan the loss of?

Do we want this small rural lifestyle to be subjected to the enormous social upheavals brought on by a construction project this big, only to find ourselves at the end of construction with only a handful of permanent jobs and right back where we started — under the control of a corporation that lives elsewhere?

Is there no alternative?