From Our Perspective
Robbie Alm

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Community deserves
input on wind turbines

At Hawaiian Electric Co., our primary responsibility is to deliver efficient, reliable power to our island's homes and businesses. To adequately provide that power, it is our duty to consider the feasibility of all of the options currently available on Oahu, which range from traditional power plants to energy conservation and efficiency measures to renewable energy resources. One question Oahu must soon decide is whether adding a wind energy farm to the list of available options is in our best interest.

Public meetings
about wind power

Hawaiian Electric Co. has recently completed a year of monitoring the strength, direction and turbulence of the wind on the ridge line above its Kahe Power Plant where it wants to build a windmill farm. Three public meetings have been scheduled to present the results of the monitoring to community members. A video about wind energy, produced by students at Nanakuli High School, will be shown at each meeting and public comment will be heard.

Ko Olina: 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, JW Marriott Ihilani Resort, Ocean Ballroom I, 92-1001 Olani St.
Kapolei: 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Kapolei High School cafeteria, 91-5007 Kapolei Parkway
Nanakuli: 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Old Nanaikapono Elementary School cafeteria, 89-195 Farrington Highway

Hawaiian Electric believes this is an important decision that must be made with the community, and not unilaterally by Hawaiian Electric. We strongly support renewable energy, and this wind farm represents a potentially rich resource, one that is certainly worth exploring. However, this wind site, on the ridges above the Kahe Power Plant on the Leeward Coast, will be in much closer proximity to homes and businesses than similar facilities in Hawaii or throughout the mainland or Europe. As we debate the merits of this wind farm proposal, Hawaiian Electric promises to listen to what the community has to say about it.

In 2003, as part of the University of Hawaii's Energy Policy Forum, local leaders who have been most active in questioning the way major infrastructure facilities are sited provided a very strong protocol for Hawaiian Electric and others to follow when faced with such decisions. We have taken their advice to heart and have adhered to the following protocols:

» Talk to the affected community first. Not surprisingly, the people who live in affected communities want the respect and courtesy of finding out about something that might happen in their neighborhoods first, before others on the island are told. In the case of the proposed wind farm, Hawaiian Electric held its first meeting with community leaders in late 2003.

» Ask for permission. People in affected communities want, and deserve, to be asked if they are willing to give their blessing on a project. In the case of the wind farm, community leaders consented to a year of testing and due diligence so we could determine whether a wind farm was viable. They asked for two things in return and made an additional suggestion.

First, they asked that we work with cultural and archaeological experts to make sure that our work was done properly, to ensure that the cultural resources of the area were protected. Second, they asked that, during that year of testing, we educate them on the benefits and drawbacks of wind power. In conjunction with the second request, they suggested that we involve the young people of the area in developing an education program.

We followed all of these requests, and a resulting wind education video produced by the students at Nanakuli High School is one that artfully captures the essence of the wind energy debate, and is something of which they should be extremely proud. At a meeting in early June, the community leaders expressed their approval of the work to date, and asked that we take the project out for general meetings in the affected neighborhoods so people there get a full opportunity to share their views.

» Accept that the community might oppose a project. Communities have a right to object to infrastructure projects in their backyards. They are the ones who will end up having to live with the project if a determination is made that it be sited there.

In the case of a possible wind farm at Kahe, the initial meeting produced mixed views. On one side were those who strongly supported the concept of renewable energy, and possessed a strong desire to lessen our unhealthy dependence on imported oil. On the other hand, concerns were raised about the visual blight of the wind turbines, the close proximity of the project to homes and businesses that depend on the island's natural beauty, as well as other environmental and cultural impacts. All the points or issues raised are important and valid. This is obviously not a simple issue; reasonable and honorable people will disagree on what course of action we should take.

This lively discussion no doubt will continue in the upcoming public meetings that we will hold in the Leeward area on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

There are two other steps to this protocol that involve "give backs" to the community if the ultimate decision is that the project goes forward. Similar to our application for the new power plant in Campbell Industrial Park, we will discuss such a community benefit package once the community feels it is appropriate.

The challenges of Hawaiian Electric building large projects have changed dramatically over the years. No one at Hawaiian Electric will ever forget the Wa'ahila Ridge experience. It remains engraved in our minds as an example of what happens when the relationship between a utility and the community we serve breaks down. We are committed to ensuring that this does not ever happen again.

Hawaiian Electric firmly believes in renewable energy as an essential part of our energy future, and we are deeply committed to reaching the mandates of Act 95, which requires us to produce 20 percent of our electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2020. We know that the Kahe site will work from a technical standpoint. Still, we have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed, and will not until we hear from the people in the affected communities.

So let your voice be heard! We want everyone to come to the public meetings this week and share your thoughts with the rest of us. And then let us all, as a community, decide whether this wind farm is right for us, and for the generations to follow.

Robbie Alm is senior vice president of public affairs for the Hawaiian Electric Co.

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