Watts up in Kahuku


POSTED: Sunday, November 01, 2009

Oahu's northeast shore is slated to be home to two new wind farms that together could produce up to 55 megawatts of renewable energy.

At least two companies are setting their sights on the wind-swept ridge of Kahuku near Turtle Bay Resort to develop wind power that would supply Hawaiian Electric Co.

First Wind, a Newton, Mass.-based company that built the Kaheawa wind farm on Maui, is expecting to break ground on a 30-megawatt system in Kahuku as early as next spring.

The company is on track to start construction next year if all permits are in place, and already has a purchase-power agreement with Hawaiian Electric under review by the state Public Utilities Commission.

Oahu Wind PowerPartners LLC of Waialua is also planning a 25-megawatt wind farm on state lands in Kahuku, a project it has named “;Na Pua Makani.”;

Kahuku, home to the northernmost point of land on Oahu, is home to several shrimp farms, which supply the popular roadside shrimp trucks, and a population of about 2,000. It once was home to a wind farm built by HECO.

The wind farm developments are in line with the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative — the state's goal of generating 70 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2030.



HECO's parent, Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc., was formed in the early 1980s to invest $25 million in the state's first wind farm, a 9-megawatt facility in Kahuku.

HEI even installed in 1987 an additional 3.2-megawatt Boeing MOD-5B, at the time the world's largest horizontal-axis wind turbine at 360 feet wide, for an additional $7 million.

Unfortunately, the project was dismantled in the early 1990s due to technical problems.

Besides mechanical problems, according to HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg, there was a dramatic drop in the price of oil, which made the wind farm too costly to operate. Also, the two-blade wind farm parts, manufactured by Westinghouse, were not suitable for salt air.

A relic, one of the propeller blades, sits today in front of HECO's Ward Avenue office as a monument to those earlier efforts.

HECO put out a request for proposals in June 2008 asking bidders to provide up to 100 megawatts of renewable energy for Oahu's power grid, with a September deadline.

Oahu's North Shore has the potential to house 100 to 150 megawatts of wind power, said Rosegg, far more than currently planned.

However, the developers must still obtain land, community approval, funding and permits while completing the competitive bidding process for projects to come to fruition.

More than 50 potential bidders expressed initial interest. HECO narrowed them down to a final list to begin negotiating power-purchase agreements, but declined to reveal them due to confidentiality requirements.

Because First Wind began its project three years ago, it was grandfathered in before HECO was required by the PUC to offer competitive bidding.



Fast-forward two decades, and wind turbine technology has improved vastly, according to Keith Avery, president of Oahu Wind.

Oahu Wind, which is partnering with Chevron, plans to install 10 turbines in two rows in the hills surrounding Kahuku Agricultural Park on 232 acres leased from the state.

The company has a draft environmental assessment but must still complete a habitat conservation plan — basically, an analysis of the project's impact on local birds and native plants. Permits also must be obtained from the county.

Oahu Wind is hoping to expand the project to 50 megawatts if another parcel becomes available.

Whereas wind turbines of the past were six-bladed, the technology most often used today is a three-bladed, upwind turbine, according to Avery.

They are aerodynamic, can withstand salt and rotate with less noise, according to Avery. The life span is about 20 years. Oahu Wind plans to use turbines manufactured by Clipper Windpower in California, made of fiberglass blades.

The wind turbines are about 420 feet tall, with the blade in a vertical position. The blades are mounted on a tower about 262 feet tall, while the blades are about 315 feet in diameter.

First Wind is planning to erect 12 turbines (which generate 2.5 megawatts each) on about 570 acres of land. First Wind purchased about 500 acres, and is leasing a 70-acre parcel next door.

The company hopes to begin construction next spring and be in operation by December 2010, according to spokeswoman Noe Kalipi.

First Wind, which has four other projects in the works in Hawaii (on Maui, Molokai and Kauai in addition to Kahuku), also plans to include a battery energy storage system that can hold 10 megawatt-hours of energy.

First Wind has been reaching out to the Kahuku community since 2007, with classroom presentations on renewable energy for students at Kahuku High and Intermediate schools.

It plans to offer the land around its turbines for agricultural use, possibly cattle grazing.

Paul Gaynor, chief executive officer of First Wind, said the company chose to develop in Hawaii because of its ideal environment and governmental support.

But Avery says Hawaii is still behind other places when it comes to harnessing the wind for energy.

“;What we're really saving more than anything is the need to import oil,”; Avery said. “;Every kilowatt a wind turbine produces keeps dollars here. It's sustainable. It doesn't pollute.”;

Oahu Wind has agreed to offer $50,000 a year to the Kahuku Community Association, and $100,000 a year after 10 years. He says the community has been supportive. In other locales, he says, wind farms have even become tourist attractions.

Neighbor isles have been more active in pursuing wind turbine projects.

The Big Island is home to three wind farms at Hawi, Kohala and South Point. Maui is already home to Kaheawa, which might expand another 27 megawatts, while another one is in the works at Ulupalakua Ranch.

The wind turbines, if both projects were completed on Oahu, would be visible from Kahuku town and Kamehameha Highway.





        Wind power projects slated for Kahuku:



First Wind (formerly UPC Wind)

        » Headquarters: Newton, Mass.

        » Project: 30 megawatts

        » Number of turbines: 12 at 2.5 MW each

        » Cost: $100 million plus

        » Time frame: Break ground next spring

        » Job creation: 6 to 10 permanent, 200 during construction

        » Site: 570 acres in Kahuku



Oahu Wind PowerPartners LLC (Na Pua Makani)*

        » Headquarters: Waialua

        » Project: 25 megawatts

        » Number of turbines: 10 at 2.5 MW each

        » Cost: $94 million

        » Time frame: Break ground next year

        » Job creation: 5 to 6 permanent, 100 during construction

        » Site: 232 acres near Kahuku Airfield

* Oahu Wind does not yet have a purchase-power agreement with HECO.