Change Is In The Wind For Big Wind Project

Hawaiian Electric Co.

UPDATED: 8/13/2012 6:20 p.m.

The political and economic winds are shifting for plans to build wind farms on Lanai and Molokai and ship the power to Oahu via undersea cable.

Castle & Cooke had once said it would build the entire Big Wind project on Lanai, putting about 140 giant wind turbines on thousands of acres. But Castle & Cooke owner David Murdock sold the island earlier this summer, and the 7,000 acres he has left for the wind project is too small for that many turbines.

And the Molokai wind farm, which some had written off, has new life with new leadership for the company that has long wanted to develop a wind farm there.

Big Wind — once envisioned as a 400-megawatt project split between the two islands — and the interisland cable system are expected to be discussed at the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo this week in Honolulu, where hundreds of business leaders and government officials from about 20 countries will convene for discussions on renewable energy.

The wind farms are taking on new urgency as Hawaiian Electric Co. moves closer to seeking proposals for ways to provide hundreds of megawatts of new power for the state.

On Lanai, Murdock sold about 98 percent of the island to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison this summer. He kept the rights to develop the wind farm but he only has access to 7,000 acres of land, according to a sales agreement recently filed with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. That's less than half the acreage projected for the full 400-megawatt project, a 2010 environmental review of the project shows.

“A wind farm of up to 400-MW capacity may encompass an area of more than 15,000 acres to allow for terrain, turbine spacing, access, etc.,” according to the assessment prepared for the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Castle & Cooke currently has a contract with HECO to develop 200 mw of the Big Wind project on Lanai, which still has to be approved by state regulators. The PUC ordered the electric utility to put the other half of the Big Wind project, planned for Molokai, out for competitive bid last year after the original wind developer for Molokai, First Wind, missed a deadline to secure land for the project.

Developers can now pitch projects on other islands that can reach Oahu via an undersea cable, or on Oahu itself. The process is now open to other renewable sources of energy besides wind — geothermal, for instance, or solar.

But supporters of the Big Wind project have forged ahead, hopeful that the wind project will still beat out competing bids.

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