Big Wind, also known as Interisland Wind, was a collaborative project prescribed by the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. Signed in October 2008, the agreement called for Hawaiian Electric companies to expand its renewable energy portfolio by 1,100 megawatts by 2030. To help meet that obligation, the parties proposed Big Wind: 400 megawatts of wind power to be produced on Molokai and/or Lanai and brought to Oahu via undersea cable. The project included four major components:
The Public Utilities Commission ruled in July 2011 that Castle & Cooke, the landowner and wind farm developer on Lanai, could not assign part of its development rights to Pattern Energy to develop a 200 megawatt wind farm on Molokai.
The ruling also required Hawaiian Electric to issue a new request for proposals for 200 mw of renewable energy that could be sited on any island that could be reached by an interisland cable, or on Oahu itself.
First Wind, the original developer for the wind farm on Molokai, missed a March 2011 deadline for showing the PUC that it had secured land for its project. The wind developer made several offers for land on Molokai Ranch that were rejected. Negotiations for a parcel of Hawaiian homestead land also fell through.
Following First Wind’s missed deadline, Molokai Ranch CEO Peter Nicholas announced that he had chosen a new company, Pattern Energy, as his preferred developer for the wind farm. Pattern joined forces with Bio-Logical Capital to develop the wind farm under a company called Molokai Renewables.
According to Castle & Cooke and Hawaiian Electric, if one of the projects fell through, then the other island could get the entire wind project — in this case, Lanai.
In light of First Wind’s missed deadline, Castle & Cooke argued that it could allocate 200 mw of its now 400 mw wind allocation to Pattern Energy to develop a wind farm on Molokai. The PUC rejected that argument.
In June 2010, AECOM (a Los Angeles-based firm with a large Hawaii presence) was selected to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the undersea cable project and suggest a preferred alternative.
In 2011, when Big Wind was being considered, oil accounted for 90 percent of Hawaii’s energy needs, including electricity as well as ground, air and sea transportation. Some oil comes from U.S.-refined product and crude oil from Alaska, but 75 percent is imported from other countries, including about half from Middle Eastern countries.
Hawaii still relies on fossil fuels more than any other state and the cost of electricity in Hawaii is more than double the U.S. average.
The interisland submarine cable, a proposal put on hold by the Legislature, had the potential to affect marine life and fisheries, coral reef, coastal ecosystems and endangered species. There would also have been an impact at the landing sites on each island, and in the areas where converter stations and transmission lines will be set to connect the power to Oahu’s grid.
Any wind turbines would have a dramatic visual impact, as well as a potential threat to birds and area wildlife, and historic, cultural and archaeological resources at the project sites.
Hawaii policy makers believe the shift to renewable and clean energy from reliance on imported fossil fuels is critical to ensure Hawaii’s economic security. The wind farms would tap the resources on Lanai and Molokai to serve Oahu’s population, placing a disproportionate burden on the small communities of those rural islands to meet Hawaii’s energy goals.
Activists from Lanai and Molokai were joined by other opponents and succeeded in stopping the Big Wind project.