Up In The Air: Will Molokai's Resistance Save It From Big Wind?

Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series on the Big Wind project. Part 2: Lanai. Part 3: The future.

MOLOKAI — Sen. Mike Gabbard steps off the plane onto the windy tarmac of the island airport. Almost immediately, he is surrounded by a group of local residents spoiling for a political fight.

A handful of photographers move in close, their cameras clicking to capture the images of what may well prove to be a defining moment for this island community.

Gabbard, two other state lawmakers and a few political aides have come to Molokai to hear what residents have to say about Big Wind, a proposed 200-megawatt wind farm that has sparked emotional protest on the island that is home to about 7,400 people.

But this is an ambush, not a welcome. The Molokai activists are there to make sure Gabbard and his entourage know that practically no one on the island wants Big Wind.

Before the long day is over, the legislators, who flew in from Honolulu, will hear dozens of residents voice their anger about the proposal to install 70 wind turbines on the west coast of Molokai and transmit electricity to Oahu via an undersea cable. Developers hope to combine a Molokai wind farm with a similar 200-megawatt project on Lanai, where lawmakers will travel the next day on a similar fact-finding mission. At stake is a bill pending before the Legislature that could be crucial to financing the undersea cable. Without the cable, there will be no wind farms.

Together, the two wind farms could supply up to 20 percent of the electricity needs of Oahu, where the bulk of Hawaii's population lives and works. They are at the heart of a state initiative to get Hawaii off oil-fired generation and on to a renewable energy program that is seen as better for consumers and the economy.

But this is not Oahu and most on Molokai clearly do not want to fuel Oahu's electric use. Among the complaints lawmakers will hear: Big Wind would desecrate the land, be an affront to the native culture, harm the environment and pose health risks. On top of that, some say, it is a huge scam, an example of corporate greed and will only feed Oahu’s excessive demand for air conditioning and everything electric. Only a couple of residents voice tepid support for the project.

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