Even strong supporters of wind power and other green energy technologies should feel their hearts hurt when they see Oahu residents being arrested as they protest, with the nonviolent methods of kapu aloha, the new Kahuku area wind turbines.

The Ku Kiai Kahuku (protectors of Kahuku) risked serious punishment because they want to stop Na Pua Makani’s eight new wind turbines being built near Laie, just south of Kahuku. The kiai feel that their voices haven’t been heard and, even though many residents have stated their opposition to new turbines being built near their homes and communities, those turbines are nevertheless being built as I write these words. Almost all of them are now completed.

I don’t have a strong opinion on the new turbines. I am, however, generally highly supportive of green energy technologies and projects.

Indeed, I’ve made this field my career and have been a renewable energy lawyer and policy expert for 15 years. I help solar power developers get permits and interconnected to the utility grid. As a regulatory attorney I also help develop green energy policies in state legislatures and public utilities commissions in California and Hawaii.

We need large amounts of green energy to meet Hawaii’s ambitious green energy goals (100% renewable energy by 2045 is the state mandate) and to mitigate climate change on a global scale. We simply can’t go on with business as usual in terms of burning diesel to create our electricity and burning gasoline to power our cars. We need to transition away from these highly polluting fossil fuels as fast as possible.

Neva Fotu’s iving room view of a Kahuku windmill. She was not happy about this.

The view from a Kahuku living room of a windmill. Poor siting can result in community turmoil.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But while I am highly supportive of green energy, I don’t want to see poorly planned green energy projects tear communities apart. I don’t want to see green energy change communities irrevocably in ways that resemble yet more aggressive colonial policies in mostly low-income and native Hawaiian communities.

Wind power and solar power are the dominant technologies for new renewable energy projects in Hawaii and other states. This is because these technologies are mature and now considerably cheaper than their fossil fuel and nuclear power alternatives.

However, both wind power and solar power projects have significant impacts that can’t be ignored. Wind power turbines are highly visible because they can be as tall as 500 feet or even more. Noise from turbines can also be an issue. They also impact birds and other wildlife.

Solar projects are not as visible as wind turbines. Nor do they make any noise. However, solar requires far more land area and can displace wildlife, along with other impacts.

 

These technologies will ramp up significantly in the coming years, as the state pushes toward 100% renewables by 2045, per state law. It will be increasingly important for the state and county policymakers to have good guidelines in place for responsible siting of these industrial-scale energy projects.

The state and each county need to act now and create responsible renewable energy siting guidelines, including appropriate distance from communities, appropriate visibility, sounds, etc.

My hope is that by working with stakeholders on Oahu and the rest of the state we can create a set of “Renewable Energy Responsible Siting Guidelines” to inform policymakers about concerns and issues relating to renewable energy impacts, and to only approve projects that meet these guidelines.

These guidelines won’t stop the new Kahuku wind turbines from being completed — that project is too far along to be changed at this point. But responsible siting guidelines will help to inform and design the next wind energy project, and the next one, and the next one, as Hawaii pushes further toward its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045. And ditto with solar power projects, which are becoming increasingly common in Hawaii.

It will benefit policymakers and the public to get ahead of this issue and to avoid increasingly contentious siting decisions as renewable energy projects become more prevalent.

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