The people of Lana’i, like so many other residents of Hawaii, understand and support the urgent need to develop alternative green energy to supply our collective energy needs and ensure that we preserve our way of life, our extraordinary natural resources and our economic futures.

Hawaii has shown great leadership in exploring alternative energy options such as solar, geothermal, wave, ocean thermal conversion technology (OTEC) and of course wind energy. Many people, in Hawaii and on the mainland, increasingly view wind as the go-to solution for green energy needs, most of them unaware of big wind’s burgeoning history of failed promise — whether in the energy it actually produces, corporate follow through of promises to the communities most affected by the industrial wind facilities, or harm to wildlife and human health.

Our land, culture and futures are too important to rush to one potential energy solution when so much is at stake. Too few have truly studied the emerging detriment, poor efficacy, and hidden costs — some irreversible — of industrial wind. Until that information is properly studied, evaluated and publicly available to the people of Hawaii, it cannot and should not be pursued or presented as the inevitable solution to our energy crisis. All of Hawaii deserves better.

Recently, Civil Beat ran two stories on what the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) calls “Big Wind.” This is the proposal to build an industrial wind power plant for Oahu’s electricity needs, but built on Lana’i and Molokai. The project calls for Lana’i to have perhaps 170 wind turbines, each over 410 feet tall (as tall as Oahu’s First Hawaiian Bank Building) consuming 25 percent of Lana’i. Each turbine’s wingspan equals the full length of a Boeing 747, resting on a 60 foot diameter, 10-12 foot deep foundation of 1100 cubic yards of concrete.

These industrial behemoths might produce 400 megawatts (MW) of electric power, which, given the intermittency of wind-generated power, equals only 10 percent of Oahu’s electric demands. In exchange for that 10 percent, Lana’i will:

  • Receive none of that power; all of it is to be transmitted to Oahu via an undersea cable that runs through the Humpback Whale Sanctuary;
  • Lose access to hunting Axis deer and Mouflon sheep in Lana’i’s “Safeway”;
  • See these turbines built directly in the flight path of the endangered Hawaiian Petrel (U’au); and
  • Have access to perhaps 20 permanent jobs, many of which will be filled, as they are in similar projects, by technically trained, non-resident workers.

For Friends of Lana’i, this is so far from a fair trade — and not even a good deal for O’ahu residents, who should get much more energy for the taxpayer-funded costs of this project. This proposed project is too expensive for 10 percent of Oahu’s electric needs. Currently estimated at $3 billion dollars (which averages out to $2,300 for every person in Hawaii), the finished project may well wind up costing twice that.

Imagine a different scenario, where the State’s share alone of $1 billion instead provides 166,000 Oahu homes with solar hot water, or 28,500 Oahu homes with full photo-voltaic systems. We question the decision to have our state spend almost the same amount as its recently announced deficit on an intermittent source of power that would generate revenues of at least $150 million dollars annually — all of which will benefit one individual (Castle & Cooke is privately held by mainland developer David Murdock). This for an industrial power plant with a life expectancy of no more than 20 years.

The second Civil Beat article covered the recent Informational Briefing for the Senate Committees on Energy and Environment, and Commerce and Consumer Protection, chaired respectively by Senator Gabbard and Senator Baker.

This was an effort by the two Senate Committees to gather information on the proposed project, and so there were nine presenters: DBEDT, HECO, Castle & Cooke, First Wind, Department of Energy and two community organizations from both Molokai and Lana’i. The hearing surfaced many of the proposed project’s shortcomings. In particular, the Senators noted the lack of transparency and clearly raised the question of why the EIS/PN covered no other renewable energy possibilities than wind. The proponents of this project agreed that indeed, Federal and State law required the examination of alternatives and that they would now be added to the scope of the coming EIS. Further, the questions and comments from the senators made it clear that despite promises made by Castle & Cooke, the community’s (and one of the senator’s as well) confidence in their promises was severely limited based on previously unkept promises.

One thing remains clear: This proposed project, which will permanently alter and possibly destroy 22,000 acres of Lana’i, has many hurdles in front of it. It is not, as its proponents and some recent articles have implied, “inevitable.” It has generated much opposition on Lana’i, despite the Company’s efforts to stifle that debate. It is becoming more and more clear to residents that it will not make Lana’i a green island, create local jobs or solve Hawaii’s energy needs. We all deserve better.

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