BLNR grants wind farm lease for more Turbines

WAILUKU – The state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday unanimously granted Kaheawa Wind Power II the land lease it needs to make way for 14 additional wind turbines along the Lahaina pali.

Kaheawa Wind is a subsidiary of Boston-based wind energy company First Wind, which already provides electricity to Maui Electric Co. with 20 wind turbines above Maalaea.

“We are committed to the stewardship of the land,” said Project Manager Kelly Bronson.

He also touted the renewable-energy project’s benefits to the environment and economy, both on Maui and across the state. The project also will need permission from the state Public Utilities Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before full construction can begin.

Work could begin as early as next month, and Bronson said it would take about a year. He didn’t have immediate estimates of how many construction jobs or full-time jobs operating machinery would be provided, or of the overall budget.

In its official vote, the board granted its next chairperson the authority to negotiate a 20-year site lease for the wind farm expansion, along with easements and utility access. Current Chairwoman Laura Thielen’s term ends in December.

The expanded wind farm, located in a line below the existing one, is expected to provide 21 megawatts on 143 acres in the Kaheawa pasture.

Thielen said there’s a lot of effort going into green energy projects in Hawaii and told her colleagues to expect many more such applications to come before the board in the near future.

The expansion of green energy sources and of efforts to wean Maui off oil was applauded during public testimony in the county Department of Planning conference room.

“This (project) is not just a talking point or an idea, it’s here now,” said former Maui Tomorrow Foundation board member Sean Lester, who urged support of the application.

Jeanne Unemori Skog, president and chief executive officer of the Maui Economic Development Board, said the project will support much-needed efforts to diversify Maui’s economy and bolster the technology sector.

A few individuals questioned whether the state has the authority to lease ceded Hawaiian monarchy lands, while others called the gigantic turbines eyesores.

“Every time I come down from Haleakala, I can see these money machines,” said opponent Jim Smith of Haiku.

Friday’s decision paves the way for Kaheawa II to clear brush and start the groundwork for the larger facility that will include an electrical substation, battery-energy storage system, underground electrical-collection system, overhead transmission line, meteorological-monitoring tower and service-access roads.

Bronson also sought and received from the board permission to start most work that does not include installing the turbines, while the company completes a draft habitat conservation plan in addition to the already-complete environmental impact statement.

The board Friday amended the conservation habitat protection plan to require a qualified biologist and archeologist be on-site during construction. The company also must notify the state when it is about to begin construction, and must get proper state and federal permits to build “vertically” or install the turbines, Thielen said.

Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, said she wanted to make sure the public continues to have safe access to the Lahaina Pali Trail.

Bronson said fences will surround the turbines and the rotating turbine blades will come no closer than 90 feet above the ground.

The subsidiary Kaheawa Wind II also has developed the conservation plan in coordination with the state DLNR as part of an application for an “incidental take” permit for endangered species.

The large wind turbines are known to cause accidental injury or death to birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires the take permit for four species identified as the endangered nene goose; Hawaiian petrel, or ‘ua’u; Hawaiian hoary bat, or ‘ope’ape’a; and the threatened Newell’s shearwater, or ‘a’o.

The company also plans to take steps to safely capture and relocate birds found in the area, and will continue its ongoing habitat management and reforestation efforts of native plant species, officials said.

Lucienne de Naie of the Sierra Club’s Maui group, called for the protected pueo, or Hawaiian owl, to be added to the list of birds in the permit application. She also said First Wind’s various native species restoration and educational efforts are “great examples of cooperation.”

In a separate action, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the project’s permit applications. The public can comment before Dec. 9 on a draft habitat conservation plan. For more information, visit http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/.