Mayor blocks Kahe wind-farm plan
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
Community and cultural concerns have effectively killed Hawaiian Electric Co.'s $70 million proposal to build a wind farm above the Kahe power plant, with Mayor Mufi Hannemann saying yesterday that the city would not grant two critical permits needed for the project.
"What I see before me is a community deeply divided that is caught between the imperative of renewable energy and the strong need to preserve important cultural resources," Hannemann said.
While he said he supports the concept of renewable energy and wind energy, he said this was the wrong place for this project.
Hannemann said he proposed to HECO officials that they explore building a wind farm across the island at Kahuku, where an early generation of a wind farm once existed.
To understand the need for other energy sources, he said, "one just need look at rising gas prices."
Robbie Alm, HECO senior vice president of public affairs, said the utility will pursue the Kahuku proposal and is talking with the military owners of the property about a potential shared use.
"We need renewable energy," Alm said. "We'll try everything we can."
Alm said the utility knew the Palehua Ridge plan "faced major challenges" after a series of public meetings on the proposal to develop the wind farm to help generate electricity to meet O'ahu's growing power needs.
Alm said the next signal that the proposal was in trouble came when a dozen key community members signed a seven-page letter of opposition.
Then last week, after hearing from those community advocates that the project "would desecrate a sacred Hawaiian place," Hannemann told utility officials that he would block the plan to place 24 to 26 wind mills on the ridge behind the Kahe power plant on the Wai'anae Coast.
In light of that opposition, Alm said the utility will end the project.
"We accept the mayor's decision and we'll move on to other projects," Alm said. "We were increasingly aware of the deep divisions in the community."
Hannemann announced his decision yesterday at a news conference in Kapolei. He routinely spends one day a week working from the city office building there.
Community member Jo Jordan said she came to the project with an open mind. Jordan praised HECO for what she called the company's extensive outreach into the community and its work at explaining the project in great detail.
But the turning point for her came when she saw a video put together by students of the Nanakuli High School audio-visual program.
When she saw their depiction of the 380-foot-tall windmills — nearly the height of a 40-story building — dominating the view from the coast to the ridge line, "that dropped my heart," Jordan said.
Add to that the question of whether it was cost-effective to spend $70 million to provide less than 2 percent of O'ahu's energy and Jordan wondered whether the resources would be better spent in other ways.
HEIAU NEAR SITE
Shad Kane, president of the Kapolei Hawaiian Civic Club, is proud to walk around some of the Hawaiian cultural structures that have been discovered high on the ridge, not far from Camp Timberline.
He said one heiau — which measures about 90 feet by 100 feet — displays unique features that seem to indicate that Hawaiians used the complex for communicating important ideas and possibly for religious purposes as well.
"It's highly possible that it's a place where chiefs spent time," Kane said.
He estimated the wind farm project would have come within 100 yards of the extensive stone structure.
Kane said the site is important because so many significant sites have been destroyed over time. He said the structure probably fared better than most because of the dry climate.
Parts of the site offer a panoramic view of the coastline, one that residents felt would be lost forever to the giant arms of the wind turbines.
City Councilman Todd Apo, who represents the Leeward Coast, praised Hannemann for listening to the community in making his decision. Apo stressed his support for renewable energy as a concept, but added, "there was great concern in this community."
In a statement, Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, D-2nd (Wahiawa, North Shore, 'Ahuimanu), said "I commend HECO in its efforts to explore alternate energy sources, including wind power, given the increase in oil prices around the world. However, I encourage you to communicate with the community to receive its input and concerns, to ensure the project's success."
Community advocate Eric Enos also praised HECO for working with the community to make the decision.
Enos said the utility provided excellent information about the project to the community, after the earlier contentious battle over a power-line proposal for Wa'ahila Ridge.
"They learned from Wa'ahila," Enos said.
Alm agreed that the company has changed its approach since the Wa'ahila Ridge project.
"If we hadn't learned from it, shame on us," he said.
The utility invested more than 16 years and millions of dollars pursuing the Wa'ahila Ridge project in vain.
HECO said the work was critical to meeting future power needs, but opponents forced the utility to fight for the project at more than 150 public hearings and neighborhood board meetings and to defend itself in Circuit Court.
In 2002, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources rejected HECO's proposal to place new, taller utility poles and a new high-voltage line on the ridge, saying the project would deface the panorama for "tens of thousands of residents and visitors."
Alm and Hannemann said the Palehua Ridge project would have required a conditional use permit and a symbol on the public infrastructure map because such a project already is allowed in zoning.
Alm said the community has supported the power plant at Kahe and a new power plant proposed at Campbell Industrial Park.
He said the utility will work on other projects designed to help reach the statewide goal of 20 percent renewable energy by the year 2020.
Hannemann said the Leeward Coast community already hosts the city landfill as well as the large power plant, which makes it "a community that already bears way too much burden on behalf of the rest of the people of Honolulu."
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.