The developer of Hawaii’s largest solar farm is considering building a major wind farm on Oahu’s west side, in a partnership with one of Hawaii’s prominent political families.
Eurus Energy America Corp. is still in the exploratory stage, gathering input from the community as it considers developing the wind farm on property owned by Gill Ewa Lands, said Rhianna Taniguchi, a Eurus spokeswoman.
If the project does come on line, it would represent another major step in Hawaii’s quest to wean itself from fossil fuels.
Gill Ewa Lands owns approximately 1,600 acres extending from the ocean near Kahe Beach Park into the Waianae mountains, including Camp Palehua, the wilderness camp formerly known as Camp Timberline.
The firm hopes to restore the land which has been damaged by decades of erosion, wildfires and growth of non-native plants, and the wind farm would provide a way to help pay for the ambitious undertaking, said Tony Gill, a Honolulu attorney serving as the spokesman for Gill Ewa Lands.
The wind farm is “the only solution that’s not brain damaged for supplying a critical piece of the puzzle,” said Gill. That piece, he said, is providing revenue to pay for the massive land restoration.
“It’s not going to work if we can’t pay for it,” he said.
Gill Ewa and partner Ed Olson acquired the land from the Campbell Estate when the long-time trust was being forced to wind down around 2007, Gill said. The partners spun off much of the land’s mauka portion to the Trust for Public Land, which buys land to hold in conservation.
The Gill family is known for its public service and environmental activism.
Tony Gill is the son of former U.S. Rep. and Lt. Gov. Thomas Gill, and brother of former Honolulu City Council Chairman Gary Gill. Tony has also served as chair of the Hawaii Democratic Party’s Oahu chapter. Gary, meanwhile, has served as Hawaii’s acting health director, director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control, and state deputy director of health for the environment.
Tony Gill said that, while the property includes land that can be leased for communication towers, much of it has limited commercial potential.
Some options include planting “croppable” native trees and restoring a sweet potato farm that research shows was on the land in the early 1600s. At the same time, he said, Gill Ewa is intent on preserving the area’s cultural and archaeological resources while it seeks to restore native plants.
The question, he said, is “What can you do with this property that will pay enough to do what you want to do?”
HECO previously was blocked from developing a wind farm in the area because of community objections. But Gill said that was more than a decade ago, before Hawaii had adopted its renewables mandate.
The farm would also represent a step toward Hawaii’s goal of producing 100 percent of the electricity sold in the islands from renewable sources by 2045.
Hawaii now produces about 27 percent of its electricity from renewables, according to the latest figures from Hawaiian Electric Co., the state’s main electric utility. So it will need to increase that fourfold over the next generation to reach its goal.
A more pressing challenge is the likely shuttering of one of Oahu’s largest power plants. AES Hawaii’s 180-megawatt, coal-burning facility in Kapolei is scheduled to go offline in 2022. The plant provides as much as a quarter of the power used on Oahu at any given time, and it’s not clear how the island will fill the gap.
Equally unclear are details of how Hawaii will reach its renewables goal. There’s a critical role for projects developed by third parties, who will sell the energy to HECO under long-term contracts. And Eurus Energy America already has stepped up as a major player.
Late last year, the company brought on line its 27.6-megawatt solar farm in Waianae. And the wind farm could provide another boost. Although she stressed Eurus is still in its exploratory stage, Taniguchi said the company is considering up to 16 turbines, each 450 to 500 feet tall. Gill said the wind farm might produce from 30 to 50 megawatts of power.
One of the key issues will be the terms of an agreement between Eurus and HECO. Although both companies declined to discuss any details of possible talks, Eurus has made it clear that it expects HECO to treat the company fairly when discussing terms that can make or break a project economically.
Specifically, in a document filed in January 2016, Eurus told the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission that it hoped HECO would “implement fair and transparent resource acquisition procedures that allow Eurus’ proposed renewable energy projects to compete on even footing with other proposed projects and any ‘self-build’ projects that the HECO Companies may propose.”
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