First Wind Misses Critical Deadline

First Wind misses critical ‘Big Wind’ project deadline

Pacific Business News – by Sophie Cocke, Pacific Business News

Date: Thursday, March 31, 2011, 2:50pm HS

First Wind, the developer for a proposed 200-megawatt wind farm on Molokai, missed the March 18 deadline to show the Public Utilities Commission that they had secured the land needed for the project, according to Kekoa Kaluhiwa, director of external affairs for First Wind.

The project is part of the proposed “Big Wind” project, designed to bring 200 mw of wind energy from Molokai and 200 mw of wind energy from Lanai to Oahu through an undersea cable. The energy could account for about 25 percent of Oahu’s energy needs, and the total cost of the project is roughly estimated at $3 billion.

Hawaiian Electric Co. officials have told PBN in the past that if Molokai’s part of the project fell through then all 400 mw could be developed on Lanai, where Castle & Cooke is the developer for that proposed wind farm.

No other developer is permitted to try and develop the wind farm on Molokai, according to First Wind executives. If Hawaiian Electric Co. executives were to try to go with another developer on the project for Molokai, Kaluhiwa said that there potentially could be litigation brought by First Wind. A company spokesman told PBN there are no plans to file litigation at this time.

HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said that “we are working through these issues now and hope to be able to provide more details in the coming weeks.” Rosegg said that he couldn’t comment further at this time.

Meanwhile, Peter Nicholas, CEO of Molokai Ranch, the property that was designated for the proposed Molokai wind farm, has been collaborating with another wind developer, San Francisco-based Pattern Energy on developing the project for the past several weeks. Nicholas told PBN that Molokai Ranch had been approached by a number of other wind developers about the project and had decided that Pattern Energy was the desired developer if the project were to come about.

David Parquet of Pattern Energy told PBN that “Pattern has been identified by Molokai Ranch as the preferred choice of wind developer should a wind project be developed on ranch property.”

Pattern Energy representatives held three public meetings laying out their proposal for the project during the first week of March. According to Parquet, Pattern Energy’s plans include about 90 wind turbines on 11,000 acres of land.

Discussions with Pattern Energy executives follow what Nicholas said were failed negotiations with First Wind. Nicholas said First Wind had presented two proposals for purchasing acreage on the Molokai Ranch for the project but they were both rejected. He said the last proposal was rejected in June of last year and since November there were no discussions with First Wind “in any shape or form.”

However, Kaluhiwa said as late as February that First Wind executives were still hoping to submit another proposal following the rejection.

Nicholas said that the reason for the rejection was that “First Wind never sought community input [on the project] despite us urging them to do that.” He said Pattern Energy representatives were already doing a much better job in talking with the community on Molokai.

Kaluhiwa said that First Wind planned to issue a response to the criticism in the near future.

The wind project has sparked heated controversy on Lanai and Molokai. Neither of the electric grids on the small islands can tolerate the high penetration of energy, meaning the residents will have to bear the effects of dozens of wind turbines on their islands. All the energy would be transported to Oahu. On Lanai, the 200 mw wind farm could cover a fifth of the island. If Lanai receives all 400 mw of wind energy it’s not immediately clear how much this would enlarge the wind farm’s footprint. Residents have expressed concerns that the wind farm could disrupt hunting and fishing practices, as well as disturb cultural and archeological sites.

Butch Gima, of Lanaians for Sensible Growth, a community advocacy organization, told PBN last September that “it’s tough to get an appreciation of how this will affect our island. Even residents have a hard time conceptualizing it. When we presented a 3-D model, people were just flabbergasted. People on Oahu need to understand that out-of-sight, out-of-mind does not relieve them of the responsibility to address this issue.”

Hawaiian Electric representatives have acknowledged in the past the significant sacrifice that residents of the islands would be making for allowing the wind farms. A community benefits package has been negotiated with Lanai residents by Hawaiian Electric and Castle & Cooke, but negotiations never developed that far on Molokai.

The “Big Wind” project has been pursued aggressively by Hawaiian Electric, and the state energy office and is seen as important for the utility in reaching renewable energy benchmarks as laid out in the 2008 Clean Energy Initiative. The state will fine the utility if goals aren’t reached, though commissioners at the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the utility, can make allowances if the utility shows it had made a good faith effort to reach targets.

Reporter Sophie Cocke can be reached at 808.955.8036 | scocke@bizjournals.com

 

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