Wind-power firm vows $50M for Molokai bid
Molokai Ranch insists it isn't for sale, but activists feel otherwise
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UPC Wind, a Massachusetts wind-power company that built Hawaii's largest wind farm, has pledged $50 million to a campaign that aims to buy lands from Molokai Ranch.
Eventually, UPC Wind hopes to build a wind farm on Molokai that would supply power to Oahu via an undersea cable.
The problem is that the lands -- more than 65,000 acres, are not for sale, according to the president and CEO of Molokai Properties Ltd. He says the company is moving forward with its master plan based on several years of community input.
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UPC Wind, a Massachusetts-based wind-power company, has pledged $50 million toward a non-profit group's efforts to buy up land owned by Molokai Ranch.
The Ho'i I Ka Pono campaign, led by the Molokai Community Service Council, aims to raise $200 million to buy all 65,000 acres of land -- more than one-third of the island -- owned by Molokai Properties Ltd.
The only hitch: The lands are not for sale, according to Molokai Properties' president and CEO, Peter Nicholas.
"The ranch is not for sale to them," said Nicholas. "We're in the process right now of implementing the master plan we've worked on with the community for years, and donating land to the land trust."
This was clearly stated and detailed in a letter to the council over the summer, he said.
Besides, even if the lands were for sale, they would go to the highest bidder, and the sales figure would be higher -- at least $300 million, he said.
As part of the master plan, about 40 percent of the company's lands, including 1,600 acres on the northwestern shoreline, are set aside for the Molokai Land Trust.
A wind farm is not part of the master plan.
A year ago, UPC Wind made an unsolicited offer of $80 million for the ranch lands to its parent company, Singapore-based GuocoLeisure Ltd. -- until last month known as BIL International Ltd.
UPC Wind had wanted to put 100 wind turbines up in west Molokai to supply power to Oahu. But the offer was rejected, he said.
UPC Wind president and CEO Paul Gaynor acknowledged it had some earlier discussions with Guoco, but declined to go into detail.
The $50 million is the single largest pledge that UPC Wind has ever made to a non-profit group.
"In addition to showing our support for the Ho'i I Ka Pono campaign, our pledge underscores our commitment to the people of Molokai and their efforts to determine how their lands will be used in the future," said Gaynor.
UPC Wind has built wind farms from Maine to Maui, where it built the 30-megawatt Kaheawa Wind Power project, the state's largest wind farm. The company typically owns and operates the wind farms that it builds.
Eventually, UPC plans to lease land from the council to build what it calls a "21st century wind farm" -- at least 300 megawatts -- which would sell power to Oahu via an undersea cable.
The company consider Hawaii a key market, said Gaynor, and is also working on projects on Kauai and Oahu.
Karen Holt, executive director of the Molokai Community Service Council, said it is the campaign's goal to acquire all Molokai lands from off-shore owners, and to put them back in the hands of people who live there.
"The only way to protect Molokai's culture, environment and lifestyle is to give the people who live here the power to decide how to manage our limited resources," said Holt. "We're hoping the UPC pledge will encourage others to help us achieve our dream. We'll be asking anybody who has any love for this place to help us get it back."
In addition to producing clean energy, a wind farm would provide lease revenue to the Moloka'i community and keep the land rural and accessible for traditional uses such as farming, hunting and cultural practices. The campaign began in the late summer, and has so far raised $10,000 from the Molokai community.
"We're not delusional," she said. "We know that this is a huge, ambitious undertaking."
She insisted, however, that the Molokai Ranch lands are for sale, and that she has had discussions with Guoco about it.
"In a business, everything is for sale to the highest bidder," she said. "If it comes down to being the highest bidder, we hope we are, because we want to buy it. Everything in a business is for sale."