The Kahuku community has risen up to protect themselves and their sacred and winged creatures from the dangers of a new wind energy project. These turbines are 568 feet high, less than 1,750 feet away from Kahuku Elementary, 1,648 feet away from residents and, especially disturbing, 760 feet away from our farmers’ family residences.

Since Oct. 13, 132 kiaʻi (protectors) have been arrested standing in peaceful nonviolent resistance against the construction of the project opposed by the community for 10 years.

Industrial wind turbines are killing winged creatures considered sacred to the Hawaiians and could be responsible for the possible extinction of entire species. This is an indigenous rights issue for Native Hawaiians, and other people of Polynesian ancestry as they are in violation of articles 29 and 31 of the “UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (2007).

Article 29 states, “Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources.”

There are hundreds of ways that climate change can be fought and indigenous peoples have been masters of these ways for thousands of years. Concepts of aloha aina that have been suppressed by corporate greed and mass consumption culture are now being taken seriously in the face of sea level rise and increasing risks due to climate change.

Yet, the state of Hawaii seeks to solve a problem using the same kind of mentality that created it. It continues to support large scale industrial projects for energy which kill species native people consider sacred. When taken into account all of the environmental damages and fossil fuel consumption necessary to produce them, turbines are not truly green.

Wind energy projects in Kahuku pose a threat to the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat population.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Tons of iron ore must be mined from the earth, and transported and manufactured using fossil fuels. They also depend on fossil fuels to keep running and will burden local landfills already overflowing in a short amount of time.

World-renowned cultural anthropologist, Tevita Kaʻili (2019) states that he views “the killing of culturally and spiritually significant winged creatures by turbines as a form of ethnocide, destruction of culture.”

Killing Machines

Wind turbines are killing machines. They are responsible for the mass murder of the sacred and endangered opeapea, a species both ecologically and culturally significant to Hawaii. In the Hawaiian creation chant, Kumulipo, the opeapea, or Hawaiian hoary bat, is a kupuna, elder or ancestor, to all Hawaiians. It is a kinolau, or physical embodiment, of Kanaloa, one of the principal deities of Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, Tahitians, Maori, and others from Moananuiakea (Kaʻili, 2019).

Article 31 of the “UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” states, “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, [and]…knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora.”

Native peoples have the right to fight to protect the sacred winged creatures and the ecosystems they need to survive.

Humans in Hawaii survived and thrived because of the vital role of the opeapea.

Here is a list of how many opeapea are being killed and how many more current wind projects want to kill: Kawailoa has 60 kills and is asking to kill 205, Kahuku has 40 kills, Pakini Nui has 26 kills, Kaheawa 1 has 20 kills and is asking to kill 30, Kaheawa 2 has 25 kills and is asking to kill 55, Auwahi has 21 kills and is asking to kill 119, Na pua makani is currently approved to kill 85 and Alamilo proposes to kill 80.

In total the state Board of Land and Natural Resources has approved the killing of 706 opeapea with approved and/or proposed take licenses. According to the Maui Invasive Species Committee (2014), “one cause of death is collisions with man-made objects such as communication towers, wind turbines, and barbed wire. This may happen as the bats catch an insect and ‘turn off’ their echolocation for a few seconds to eat.”

Furthermore, Hancock (2019) states, “Bat deaths increasingly occur via wind-turbine strikes and barotrauma — lung explosions caused by sudden changes to proximal air pressure.”

In 2015 they were named the official land mammal for the state of Hawaii (Senate Bill 1183, 2015). The bats are a natural pesticide, consuming moths, beetles, termites, crickets, mosquitoes and others.

Not only do they play an important ecological role in keeping forest ecosystems in balance which maintains our water source, but they also provide our farmers with the help they need to provide us with the food we eat for their role as a natural insecticide. Since its first arrival about 10,000 years ago, humans in Hawaii survived and thrived because of the vital role of the opeapea in the ecosystem.

In addition to killing the opeapea, the Fish and Wildlife Service (2018) states that, “Na Pua Makani Power Partners applied to the Service for an ITP under ESA section 10(a)(1)(B).”

The incidental take permit is for a 21-year permit term and authorizes take (killing) of the threatened Newell’s shearwater and the endangered Hawaiian stilt, Hawaiian coot, Hawaiian moorhen, Hawaiian duck, Hawaiian goose, and the Hawaiian hoary bat (collectively these species are hereafter referred to as the “covered species”) that may occur as a result of the construction and operation of the project.”

Sacred Opeapea

Today, the Kahuku community has risen up against the Na Pua Makani wind project which has begun construction of eight of the largest turbines in the U.S. in close proximity to residents. One of their biggest reasons is to protect the local populations of wildlife who call the Kahuku skies home.

According to Dr. Kaʻili (2019), “There is no evidence that the habitat conservation plan (HCP) of the turbine companies have replaced a single opeapea that these turbines killed. Yet, the BLNR, the same board that approved the TMT for Mauna Kea, went ahead and approved the HCP for the turbines in Kahuku.”

It seems equally illogical to house industrial turbines directly across the street from the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge and in a place well known for millennia as a gathering place for birds and bats.

Keep the North Shore Country and the Kahuku Community Association are asking the Intermediate Court of Appeals to reverse an agency decision to accept the Habitat Conservation Plan for the Na Pua Makani wind project being built near Kahuku. After a thorough investigation of the facts in a contested case, the Board of Land and Natural Resources hearing officer agreed with us that NPM has not satisfied the requirements of Hawaii Environmental Law; she recommended that the HCP be denied.

Unfortunately, the BLNR disregarded this recommendation and granted it, instead. Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree heard oral arguments on Dec. 5, 2018, and then affirmed BLNR’s decision on April 10, 2019, granting deference to the agency’s decision.

KTNSC believes the circuit court and BLNR got it wrong, so it is asking the Intermediate Court of Appeals to review the facts and decisions (KTNSC, 2019). A court date on this appeal is still pending and construction continues to move forward.

It is time that everyone demands that the state, the city and all government agencies place a moratorium on industrial wind turbines to give the endangered and sacred opeapea, and other native species, a fighting chance at survival.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author