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Mood change and new development -- Hawaii moves forward

Wind development at last looks to be proceeding again in Hawaii. Hawi Renewable Development, a California company, has just ordered eight Vestas wind turbines for a 5.25 MW project on the Big Island approved in March. Construction at Upolu Point in North Kohala will be completed by year's end before the federal tax credit expires.

Hawi already has a 15-year power purchase agreement with the local utility, Hawaiian Electric and Light Co (HELCO), and financing is in place, says Hawi vice president Dave Absher. Hawi is also negotiating for a power purchase agreement for a second phase that will bring total capacity to 10.56 MW, says Ward Saunders of HECO, the Honolulu-based parent of HELCO. Construction of the second phase is unlikely before 2004. If nothing else, the Public Utilities Commission can take up to a year to approve a project. HELCO has experience with wind. It owns and operates the 2.3 MW Lalamilo plant, built in 1985.

Based in Chico in northern California, Hawi first got involved in wind as the contractor on the Ponnequin plant in Colorado. "After doing that, we'd always been looking for other opportunities in renewables," says Absher. The company has previously been mostly in hydro.

Meanwhile, Hawi and GE Wind were awarded a land lease by the state Bureau of Land and Natural Resources in March for a 20 MW wind plant at Kaheawa on the island of Maui. The proposal beat out a competing plan, submitted by an upstart local company, Hawaii Wind Energy LLC of Honolulu, in part because of GE's stature. But GE Wind, which is not a wind plant developer, has now sold its interest in the Maui project to Hawi, says Absher.

If built, it will be Maui's first wind farm with 27 or more wind turbines on ten acres of state owned conservation land 650-1000 metres above sea level. The plans have been on the books since the mid-1980s, initially by the California wind developer and manufacturer Zond Inc, which was later bought by Enron Wind, subsequently bought by GE. In April 2000, the state had approved a land lease with Zond, although a power purchase agreement was never finalised and the approval lapsed after one year.

Wind farm plans have often moved at a snail's pace on the islands. In December 2000, the Idaho company Pacific Winds Inc secured a 20-year power purchase agreement with Kauai Electric on the island of Kauai for a 10 MW project, saying the project would be on-line in 2003 even though it did not have a site. On the Big Island, the existing South Point wind farm is also faltering. Owned by Apollo Energy Corp of Foster City, California, in recent times only 6 MW of the 9.75 MW of Mitsubishi 250 kW turbines installed in 1986 have operated. A repower has been in negotiation for four years and could finally go ahead this year, says Saunders. Apollo has also said it may expand the project to 20 MW.

Coming round

Part of the impetus for the most recent advances is a change in mood. Utilities are coming around to wind again. In the early 1980s, the US Department of Energy and NASA installed two of the huge experimental "MOD" turbines on Oahu, the most populous island with the largest grid. A wind farm of 15, 600 kW Westinghouse turbines was later installed, but was not successful.

Although the optimistic Renewables Portfolio Standard in debate in 2000 never materialised, other new legislation is helping. Passed in May 2002, Act 77 calls on businesses to use more renewables. Hawaii is also requiring state buildings, once they have met certain efficiency criteria, to get one-fifth of their energy from renewables and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2012.

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