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Developer eyes second plant -- Hawaii aloha

While Hawaii's steady breezes and high oil-driven electricity prices make it a natural haven for wind power, only three projects and 61.5 MW have come online since the mid-1980s. Residing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean adds cost to most everything -- including wind development -- as the state aims to reach 20% renewable energy use by 2020.

But New England wind project developer UPC Wind, with an eye on economies of scale, recently pledged $50 million toward a campaign intended to help locals repurchase 40% of the island of Molokai from a development company. The idea is to place the small island's destiny in the hands of the native community, which seeks wind power as a way to generate income without encouraging tourism or developing real estate. The land is expected to cost upwards of $225 million and a proposed UPC wind project would be at least 200 MW.

"Molokai is the last Hawaiian island that's the same as it was 30 or 40 years ago," says UPC's Paul Gaynor and conservation is key. "Obviously, our intentions are to build a wind farm there and I think that would be in concert with Molokai's intentions. The view is that a wind farm is part of the solution and a lot of people are pushing hard to get it done as quickly as possible."

Molokai, Hawaii's fifth-largest island, is 61 by 16 kilometres in size and has only 7000 inhabitants. Much of the electricity from the UPC project would be sent to the island of Oahu through underwater transmission lines that have yet to be built. Gaynor would like to see the project under way within two or three years. "For Hawaii, more than any other state in our country, putting more wind on the system is great because it takes $95-a-barrel oil off the grid," Gaynor says. "The demand is there and the interest is there. It just takes a while to get it all sorted out."

In 2006, UPC completed Hawaii's largest development, the 30 MW Kaheawa Wind Farm on the island of Maui. The Massachusetts-based company maintains four fulltime Hawaiian employees who work on wind development and expects to announce other projects in the 50th state this quarter or next. "We're looking at a bunch of opportunities and I think we have proven it can be done," Gaynor says. "Hawaii is a key market for us."

Welcome mat

Elsewhere, Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is courting wind development by offering free data on wind conditions and bird activities collected on the north shore of Oahu. "There are only a couple of areas on Oahu that our research has shown are really good for wind power," says HECO's Derren Pai. The utility and its subsidiaries serve 95% of the state's 1.2 million residents on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, Lanai and Molokai. "We want to encourage more development," says Pai. The data includes wind speed measurements at different sites in the 1980s and in 2007, along with an avian radar study.

In addition to UPC's 30 MW project in Maui, the state's other two developments, the 10.56 MW Hawi project and the 21 MW Pakini Nui Wind Farm, are on the island of Hawaii -- also known as the Big Island. The state's capital and largest city, Honolulu, is on Oahu. "Wind has been very successful on the Big Island and on Maui," Pai says. "We'd like to develop wind resources on Oahu."

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