Maui Planning Commissioners Praise Proposed Wind Farm Idea

Wind farm idea draws praise

Doubts linger on logistics of Upcountry construction

March 23, 2011 – By HARRY EAGAR, Staff Writer
Article from: The Maui News

WAILUKU – Maui planning commissioners Tuesday praised a proposed wind farm as a “wonderful, wonderful project” but raised doubts about getting the massive equipment to the remote location on the southwest flank of Haleakala between two sections of the Auwahi native plant restoration area.

The commission was commenting on a draft environmental impact statement for Sempra Energy’s proposed wind project at Ulupalakua.

Worries about losing the last highway ocean views to what Chairman Jonathan Starr called “pole land” also came up Tuesday. But the wind farm itself was warmly received, with Starr wishing only that it could be bigger than the 21 megawatts proposed.

Pardee Erdman, of Ulupalakua Ranch, which will lease nearly 1,500 acres to Sempra, called the project “a win-win for the ranch.” He said the infrastructure needed to transport heavy turbines and lengthy vanes will “make that land more productive than it is today,” although he added, “We are going to continue raising cattle.”

Maui Electric Co. has contracted to begin purchasing wind electricity from the project a year from now.

But developers still have to obtain many permits before they can proceed, including a special management area permit for parts of the project makai of the road to Kahikinui.

That troubled Commissioner Kent Hiranaga, as well as Starr. As proposed now, the 23,000-volt transmission line would run along the highway through Ulupalakua for a distance makai before crossing mauka. The poles would be 60 feet tall and wooden, but Starr wondered whether the line couldn’t be buried, at least for the portion makai, which he described as some of the finest scenic views in the islands.

Hiranaga wondered whether the mitigative measure shouldn’t be moving the farm itself mauka.

Mitch Dmohowski, Sempra’s project manager, said the developers looked at two potential areas, but ultimately chose the makai site because it had better conditions.

“It’s the best wind site I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Hiranaga suggested that by adding a few more towers, the project could generate the same amount of electricity at the mauka site.

“You have to satisfy us that the loss of the view plane is justified,” he said.

Preliminary estimates call for between eight and 15 wind towers, depending on the size of the turbines installed.

Judith and Richard Michaels, residents of Makena Surf, questioned the developers’ plans for access to the site.

The more direct route would appear to be via Kula Highway, but the developers prefer a more circuitous route down Piilani Highway, along Wailea and Makena alanuis and up a private ranch road, which will have to be considerably improved.

Along the way, medians on the alanuis would have to be torn up, trees cut back and several traffic signals at intersections temporarily removed.

The Michaelses pointed out that, toward the end of that trip, the pavement narrows to a two-lane rural road that, south of the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel, is the only way out. If there were a mishap with one of the 116 “superloads,” Judith Michaels said, “we could not get out.”

An extension of Piilani Highway higher up might prove more practical, they said, particularly if the developer of Honua’ula were persuaded to participate in the improvements in order to get a construction access road to its 670 acres.

There is another ranch road from that area that approaches the wind farm site, but Erdman cautioned that the engineering to make that path usable would be formidable.

In any case, commissioners asked that the study investigate alternatives.

Other areas that commissioners wanted expanded on in the nearly 400-page report included effects on native dryland vegetation and birds, benefits to people living in Kaupo and Kahikinui, demand for water, and who will be responsible for removing the equipment, towers and associated substations at the end of the farm’s useful life.

Dmohowski said the equipment is expected to be good for 25 years, but depending on conditions at that time, Sempra might want to rebuild it rather than abandon it.

Copies of the draft EIS can be found on the website of The Environmental Notice of the Hawaii Office of Environmental Quality Control. Visit hawaii.gov/health/environmental/oeqc/index.html.

Send comments to the applicant, Auwahi Energy LLC, 101 Ash St., HQ 14, San Diego, Calif., 92101, attention, Mitch Dmohowski; to the accepting authority, County of Maui, Planning Commission, 250 S. High St., Wailuku 96793, attention Joe Prutch; or the consultant, Tetra Tech EC Inc., 737 Bishop St., Suite 3020, Honolulu 96813, attention Anna Mallon.

The deadline to comment is April 21.