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Two projects break Hawaii opposition - Pacific winds to power 30 MW of new wind plant

After 15 years of battling the scepticism of entrenched power interests, two more wind projects in Hawaii -- both to be built by Enron Wind Development Corp -- seem to be finally moving ahead. Early last month local authorities approved plans for a 20 MW project on the island of Maui, confirms Keith Avery of Enron Wind Development Corp and Zond Pacific Inc. Meanwhile Enron has already signed a power purchase agreement for 10 MW with the utility Hawaiian Electric for a wind project on the island of Hawaii, one of several Hawaiian Islands and also known as the Big Island. Both developments must be approved by the state Public Utilities Commission.

News of the projects comes as a renewables portfolio standard, setting a minimum requirement for renewable energy in Hawaii, is working its way through the state legislature in Honolulu. The bill requires 7.5% of Hawaii's electricity to be from renewable sources by 2010 and 14.5% by 2020.

Pressure for the shift in attitude towards wind is from the people of the state, both consumers and environmentalists. "The people of Hawaii want change," says Avery. The deregulation of America's electricity industry is also loosening the stranglehold of monopoly utilities. In Hawaii, the utility had been especially burned by the failed wind project on the most populated island, Oahu. The Mitsubishi turbines, once owned by the utility and considered the showpiece of the islands' renewable potential, no longer operate and are about to be dismantled.

Zond Pacific Inc, originally part of Zond Corp, the leading US wind turbine developer and manufacturer bought by Enron, has been fighting to develop wind projects in Hawaii since the 1980s. The state has an excellent wind resource, no fossil resources and must import fuel. Residents pay as much as $0.12-$0.20/kWh.

The Maui project, proposed for a mountain ridge on the west of the island, will consist of 27, 750 kW Z-48 turbines with 50 metre towers. A power purchase agreement is being negotiated with Maui Electric Co, part of Hawaiian Electric, the islands' public utility. The price of the wind power from the project has tentatively been agreed to.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the project in April after a public meeting in which an estimated 30 people -- including Native Hawaiians -- spoke in favour of the project. Environmentalists testified that it would help reduce the use of fossil fuel and pollution that contributes to global warming. No members of the public at the meeting opposed the project, although the question of visual impacts was raised. Residents of the village of Kihea will be able to see them from a distance of several miles.

Economic benefits

The benefits to the islands, whose economy is based precariously on one major industry, tourism, is seen to outweigh any negative impact. "The 20 year total fuel cost saving is estimated at almost $76 million," according to state business and economic director Seiji Naya. "By keeping this money in Maui's economy, there will be collateral benefits in employment." The wind farm is to be completed by the end of this year.

The project on the Big Island would be on the site of what is the second oldest wind farm in America that at its peak consisted of 1.78 MW in installed capacity at North Kohala. The small Jacobs turbines there no longer operate. Only three, 25 kW Carter turbines are still functioning. Zond Pacific hopes to complete the project in 2001.

A third wind project, also on the Big Island, is being retrofitted with Lagerwey LW30 turbines (Windpower Monthly, May 1999). The ten year old project, which consisted of 37 Mitsubishi 250 kW machines, is being retrofitted by Apollo Energy Corp, a small company based in California. It is to be completed next month.

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