Remembering Big Wind’s Big Fail On Lanai - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Robin Kaye

Robin Kaye is a longtime Lanai resident and energy activist and chairman of the Friends of Lanai. He is the author of Lanai Folks.

Kirstin Downey’s recent article (“The Struggle Over Towering Wind Farms Is At The Center Of A Honolulu City Council Debate,” Sept. 21) rightly highlights the Kahuku community’s critical role in helping to inform public opinion regarding the negative community impacts of industrial wind power plants.

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She writes: “When they first arrived in Hawaii about a decade ago, the turbines were initially welcomed but North Shore residents were shocked by their huge size and disturbed to learn they posed deadly hazards for endangered wildlife, particularly the opeapea bat on the North Shore. But opposition hardened when the big towers came to Kahuku three years ago.”

While that’s accurate (although the first wind turbines arrived on the Big Island’s South Point in 1987), it overlooks the role of the Lanai community’s opposition to the now defunct Big Wind proposals for Lanai and Molokai in Hawaii’s love/hate affair with industrial wind power plants.

First proposed in 2007 — 15 years ago — Big Wind on Lanai was David Murdock’s and then-Gov. Linda Lingle’s scheme to install 170 wind turbines that would irretrievably alter — and environmentally destroy — almost 25% of Lanai’s land. The giant turbines would generate electricity to be delivered via an undersea cable to power Oahu’s ever-increasing demand for electricity.

Scale “model” of what one of Lanai’s proposed wind turbines would look like at the Hawaii State Capitol.
Illustration of what one of Lanai’s proposed wind turbines would look like at the Hawaii State Capitol. Courtesy: Friends of Lanai

The project divided this small island of 3,000 people in ways that are still being felt today. It was touted as a panacea for those hungry to achieve the state’s goal of 100% renewable energy. But to many Lanaians, it was seen as an environmentally destructive scheme designed primarily to enrich the landowner.

The community’s consistent and vocal opposition — despite the project’s support from many legislators, two governors, an abundance of state bureaucrats, Hawaiian Electric, the ILWU and others — eventually killed the project. The unwillingness of Lanai’s new and current majority landowner to support the destruction of “his” island, put the final nail in the coffin of Big Wind on Lanai.

Several community members from Kahuku came to Lanai years ago, and asked Friends of Lanai, the group formed to lead the opposition to Big Wind, for advice during this divisive time. We told them to “just say no,” rather than trying to set restrictions and/or conditions on the placement of wind turbines in their neighborhood.

They did not follow that recommendation, and I wonder what those members, looking back, think now.

Time passes, and many have forgotten — or never knew — the lessons learned from the Big Wind struggle. With time, Kahuku’s lessons will likely fade as well. There will be new administrations, and new profit-seeking corporations wanting to capitalize on resources in small communities.

The message for me is that the community needs to be involved early and frequently if it’s targeted to be the site of industrial power plants, of any flavor, and it has to “just say no” frequently, continuously and loudly. Never give up or give in.

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About the Author

Robin Kaye

Robin Kaye is a longtime Lanai resident and energy activist and chairman of the Friends of Lanai. He is the author of Lanai Folks.

Latest Comments (0)

Does the opposition to wind farms have an alternative proposal for green energy? Options would be hydropower, solar, ocean wave, atomic fusion, others?

MICHAEL2042 · 11 months ago

I completely agree that wind turbines are not an appropriate technology for anywhere in Hawaii, onshore or offshore, for multiple reasons including: (1) a questionable net energy gain over the long term considering manufacturing, installation, maintenance and replacements, (2) aesthetic destruction of our homeland and near-shore areas, and (3) myriad biological negative impacts. But this viewpoint does not directly present any clear reasons for opposition other than being an industrial use. It just bases opposition on "environmental" impacts. I don't think this will broaden public opposition much to this initiative by "windmillers." I live in Kona, on the Big Island, and I truly dread having more of these ugly "bird-beaters" popping up in Kohala and Ka'u districts where the wind is. The State should instead press the geothermal development option for non-fossil fuel energy generation; a highly credible study shows viable geothermal production capacity on Oahu and Maui as well as multiple spots on the west side of Hawaii island. Sacred cow vs. desecration? An ironic tragedy if allowed to continue in this direction of "wind farms" sitting on top of geothermal energy sources. LOL

Colin12345 · 11 months ago

Has the wind farm at Ma'alaea on Maui avoided most of these issues? I know they have issues with killing bats, but I haven't heard about community objections like on Lana'i or in Kahuku.

Rob · 11 months ago

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