The 400 megawatt Big Wind project may not be just a wind project anymore.

The Hawaii State Energy Office is expanding the scope of its environmental assessment to include solar and geothermal energy sources in Maui County.

A recent ruling by the PUC requires Hawaiian Electric Co. to develop a new RFP for at least 200 mw of renewable energy that was originally planned for the Molokai portion of the Big Wind project. The RFP is open to any renewable energy source and can be sited on any island that can reasonably reach Oahu by an inter-island cable or Oahu itself.

The expansion of the EIS is in response to community “scoping meetings” on the affected islands earlier this year, according to Allen Kam, who is managing the EIS for the energy office.

“When looking at the EIS, it’s very broad,” said Kam. “We’re paving the way for what could happen, not what will happen.”

Discussion about expanding the EIS came Monday during a contentious panel discussion sponsored by the Environmental Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. The Big Wind project has become increasingly controversial, with local resistance towards the initially proposed wind projects on Molokai and Lanai, becoming more vocal.

The original plan, submitted to the PUC by Hawaiian Electric Co., included a 200 mw wind farm on both Molokai and Lanai that would bring energy to Oahu via an undersea cable. The 200 mw wind farm on Lanai is able to proceed according to the PUC ruling, which also said that its approval was not definite.

“I think it does create an interesting proposition,” said HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg of the new RFP currently being devised by the utility. “There was a lot of talk before that HECO wasn’t considering all the alternatives, and I think this will put an end to that.”

However, expanding the EIS as well as creating a new RFP will likely delay the project, which the state energy office and HECO are expecting to account for 20 percent of Oahu’s energy needs. It will also likely add additional costs to the EIS.

The $3 million environmental assessment is currently being funded through federal stimulus money. Kam said additional costs, where the funding would come from and how much delay it might cause the project had yet to be determined.

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author