May 10, 2012
Melanie Stephens, The Maui Weekly
In Maui's tale of two wind farms, it looks like 2012 is the best of times for big wind projects on the Valley Isle. The existing Kaheawa Wind farm added 14 new turbines to its existing 20 on the ridge above Ma'alaea, which will go online in the next few months. Auwahi Wind farm on 'Ulupalakua Ranch land in Kula broke ground on April 27 for its eight-turbine project, which is projected to provide power to Maui Electric Company (MECO) by the end of the year.
"From the Hawaiian perspective, wind is very important in our culture," said Sen. J. Kalani English in his historical perspective on April 27 at the Auwahi Wind Groundbreaking Celebration, as he addressed a gathering of 200 dignitaries and community members celebrating the start of construction of the Auwahi Wind Farm on 1,400 acres of leased 'Ulupalakua Ranch land.
"La'amaomao, the wind, was kept in a gourd to hold knowledge, 'ike," the senator continued. "When our people needed it, this gourd was opened and the "la'amaomao would come out to provide insight and the depth of understanding that our society needed. So when people say wind is something new, indeed, the way we do it now is, but ancient Hawaiians understood it very well. It was the power we used in our canoes, from the Marquesas Islands to Hawai'i--wind power. So we are taking ancient technology, making it relevant to our society now."
Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz commended the project as a "model for family farms, keeping them viable, and for those who want to keep the rural nature of our rural areas. And it's a model for community integration of clean energy. We don't have to act as if the community will oppose all wind, solar or geothermal projects. These projects start with conversations. It starts with talking to elders and kuhuna in the community. It doesn't start with a power purchase agreement and contract negotiations."
MECO President Ed Reinhardt acknowledged 'Ulupalakua Ranch President Sumner Erdman for having the original vision for the project and the drive to keep it going through the challenges.
Six years ago, the ranch signed a contract with Shell Oil to complete the wind farm. After that contract fell apart, Sempra U.S. Gas & Oil took over in 2008, and today the company has a 20-year contract with MECO to provide 21 megawatts of power with its eight "super turbines"--enough to power 10,000 typical Maui homes annually.
Scott Crider, spokesman for Sempra, said the turbines arrive in July. From base to blade tip, the towers will stand 480 feet tall, with Seimans turbines converting the wind to energy. They will be delivered via an improved, gravel-based, four-mile-long Papaka Road, cutting through ranchland from Makena Landing to Upper Pi'ilani Highway, east of 'Ulupalakua. In agreement with the Kihei-Wailea community, the deliveries will be made between 7 and 10 p.m., with three to four trips per day for three to four weeks.
Crider added that a traffic plan is being worked out with the communities along Kula Highway, where the bulk of the construction traffic will travel. He promised "good communication, public service announcements and notice in the papers" to inform the public of upcoming traffic.
Gordon Gillis of Pacific Safety Solutions, the local company handling the oversight of Sempra's safety concerns, said that traffic is the No. 1 safety issue he foresees in this project, given Upcountry's narrow roads, livestock and tourist traffic.
Considering community benefits, the Auwahi Wind farm promises 150 local construction jobs and five permanent positions to operate the facility. According to Crider, as part of its Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), Sempra will contribute $25,000 to Haleakala National Park's nene and Hawaiian petrel recovery programs, and $144,000 toward a six-acre exclosure and further reforestation in the Auwahi area.
Wind power will provide a stable price for power, in contrast to volatile present-day oil prices. According to Lt. Gov. Schatz, "Hawai'i's average utility rate is two-and-a-half times the national average. The Auwahi Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with MECO costs 20 cents per kilowatt--significantly cheaper than what we're paying for oil now. Even if we weren't looking at clean energy issues, this project would make sense from a bottom-line perspective."
Currently, new wind farms must provide battery storage capacity to even out the sudden surges and drops in wind. Auwahi will have a 10-megawatt storage capacity able to recharge in 15 minutes, according to Crider. These batteries will provide short-term power when the wind changes so that MECO has more time to compensate for the shift and can operate more efficiently.
For 'Ulupalakua Ranch, this project means staying in business, stated Sumner Erdman. By diversifying, they can tend to their cattle business, continually challenged by drought conditions. They can take care of their employees, and "preserve open space and manage our reforestation projects."
The ranch has about 500 acres enclosed against deer, pigs and goats, for the native trees that have been and will be planted to regain the dryland forests.
Kahu Dane Maxwell, grandson of Uncle Charlie Maxwell, conducted the blessing for the groundbreaking ceremony. It was his first blessing as he steps into the leadership role his grandfather, who recently died, prepared him for. He has a deep connection to the Auwahi area, having hunted and fished there. He and his grandfather conducted the cultural assessment for the project.
"There are so many kupuna here, there's a lot of iwi (bones) and ahu (mound or altar)--it holds a special place for me and my 'ohana I spent a lot of time asking for permission to be on this site--especially because it's an outside company, we have to ask permission But Sempra has gone above and beyond to help us... If I had to choose any place to have a project, it would be on the Erdman's land. They are second to none. But it is so important to do this properly And they really made this a pleasant process through the whole thing."
Attendees at the ceremony also included Richard M. Rosenblum, Hawaiian Electric Company president; Sharon M. Suzuki, Maui Electric Company incoming president; Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa; Pardee Erdman, 'Ulupalakua Ranch owner; Christian Erdman, 'Ulupalakua Ranch treasurer and vice president; and John Sowers of Sempra U.S. Gas & Power.
For more information, visit www.semprausgp.com/energy-solutions/wind-auwahi-wind.html.