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.

Contents

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:

History

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.

Economics

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.

Impacts

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
Up In The Air: Big Wind Divides Lanai Community Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

Up In The Air: Big Wind Divides Lanai Community

Now, David Murdock says he's selling Lanai, creating even more uncertainty.

‘Big Wind’ Project Faces Mounting Uncertainty

Other renewable energy sources for powering Oahu are on the table.

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

State opens door to solar, geothermal to feed power to Oahu.
Hawaii PUC Denies Molokai ‘Big Wind’ Deal

Hawaii PUC Denies Molokai ‘Big Wind’ Deal

UPDATED Regulators say that 200 megawatts of wind energy must be put out to competitive bid.
No Special Session Means Key Bills In Limbo Flickr: exfordy

No Special Session Means Key Bills In Limbo

They include measures setting up an undersea power cable, funding for APEC security and paying off claims against the state.
Session Wrap: Energy Bills Pass, But Little Spark

Session Wrap: Energy Bills Pass, But Little Spark

Watered-down measures seek studies rather than action.
Hawaii Deserves Better Than Industrial Wind Power from ‘Big Wind’

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

Robin Kaye of Friends of Lana’i says proposed 400 megawatt project a bad idea for his island and for Oahu.
Senate’s Big Wind Hearing: Let the Negotiations Begin!

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

Developers will need to give Lanai and Molokai residents more concessions to erect turbines for Honolulu power.
Another Day, Another 20-Year Power Purchase Agreement

Another Day, Another 20-Year Power Purchase Agreement

Hawaiian Electric, Castle & Cooke reach deal on purchase price from Big Wind farm on Lanai.
HECO: We’re Serious About Biofuels

HECO: We’re Serious About Biofuels

Electric company makes 20-year commitment to buy "green" fuel from Big Island farm.
Comments You Don’t Want to Miss – July 26

Comments You Don’t Want to Miss – July 26

Our series on the Big wind project generated thoughtful and informative dialogue, while an article on remarks by then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann showed that even race can be discussed civilly at Civil Beat.