Big Wind

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Updated May 2017

Big Wind was a 400-megawatt wind project initially proposed for Molokai and/or Lanai, with the electricity distributed to Oahu via undersea cable.

But the Molokai portion of the project was stymied after the developer, Molokai Ranch, lost its lease to the land while waiting for the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission to release a long overdue RFP.

The Lanai portion of the project is still on the table, though thought to be unlikely. Castle & Cooke’s David Murdock sold the island to billionaire Larry Ellison in 2012 but retained development rights to the windfarm.

The project was part of the energy agreement signed in October 2008 between the State of Hawaii, the state Consumer Advocate and the Hawaiian Electric companies under the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, an earlier agreement signed in January 2008 by the governor of Hawaii and the U.S. Department of Energy.

HCEI’s goal was 70 percent clean energy for electricity and ground transportation in Hawaii by 2030 and later revised legislatively to 100 percent by 2045. As part of its commitment to reach 40 percent renewable energy by 2030, Hawaiian Electric pledged to expand its renewable energy portfolio by at least 1,100 megawatts (MW). Act 155 in 2009 established as state law the increased renewable energy goal — 40 percent of electric sales from renewables by 2030 as well as 30 percent energy efficiency savings by that date.


The Basics

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.


Big Wind

February 2013

Wednesday, February 20

Hawaii Snapshot — Big Wind Becomes A Plot Line For Molokai Author

August 2012

Thursday, August 2

You Can Have The Island, But I’m Keeping the Elephant Tusks

July 2012

Monday, July 23

Pro-Wind Signs Come Down on Lanai

May 2012

Tuesday, May 15

Off The Beat: The Mouse That Roared

April 2012

Friday, April 27

Civil Beat Poll – Hawaii Wants Undersea Cable

Tuesday, April 10

Big Wind Opponents Suffer Defeat in House

March 2012

Wednesday, March 7

Senate Passes Undersea Cable Bill While Backing Away From Big Wind

November 2011

Wednesday, November 30

Time Running Out For Hawaii Wind Farm Grant

Tuesday, November 29

The Fate Of Lanai Hinges On A Los Angeles Real Estate Tycoon

Tuesday, November 22

Sempra’s Giant Solar Farm Unlikely Replacement for Molokai Big Wind

Thursday, November 10

Up in the Air: Still No Easy Answers For Big Wind

Wednesday, November 9

Up In The Air: Will Molokai’s Resistance Save It From Big Wind?

Monday, November 7

Up In The Air: Big Wind Divides Lanai Community

August 2011

Thursday, August 25

Hawaii Regulators Shoot Down HECO Request to Reconsider ‘Big Wind’

July 2011

Wednesday, July 27

‘Big Wind’ Project Faces Mounting Uncertainty

Tuesday, July 26

Hawaii Expands ‘Big Wind’ Project to Include Other Renewable Sources

Friday, July 15

Hawaii PUC Denies Molokai ‘Big Wind’ Deal

May 2011

Friday, May 27

No Special Session Means Key Bills In Limbo

Thursday, May 5

Session Wrap: Energy Bills Pass, But Little Spark

January 2011

Tuesday, January 18

Hawaii Deserves Better Than Industrial Wind Power from ‘Big Wind’

Wednesday, January 12

Senate’s Big Wind Hearing: Let the Negotiations Begin!

Saturday, January 8

Another Day, Another 20-Year Power Purchase Agreement

Friday, January 7

HECO: We’re Serious About Biofuels

July 2010

Saturday, July 24

Comments You Don’t Want to Miss – July 26

Week 12: Life at Civil Beat Gets Even More Interesting

Monday, July 19

Topic Pages On Big Wind, Energy, Climate Change

Thursday, July 15

Big Wind Fuels a Torrent of Big Questions — Part 2

Big Wind Fuels a Torrent of Big Questions — Part 1