Renewable energy company searches for ‘air space’ on Oahu’s North Shore

Jade Eckardt

NORTH SHORE—Kahuku will be home to the first wind farm Oahu has seen in approximately 20 years. First Wind, an independent North American wind energy company, is developing a wind farm on the North Shore that is expected to generate 30 mega watts of clean energy. The company, who is currently focusing on developing wind farms in the northeastern and western regions of the United States and Hawaii, must construct two towers that will provide the communication system between the wind farm and the eco grid and substations in Wahiawa and Waialua. The towers will be located in Kahuku and Waialua.

The towers will be home to a series of antennas that transmit “a narrow beam communication path that will be relayed from Kahuku to an existing tower in Kawela where they will be split and sent to Waialua, and to Maunakapu then Wahiawa,” says First Wind representative Wren Wescoatt. 

The public has expressed concerns with the locations and height of the towers, which must be at least 60-feet tall. First Wind is looking for a higher elevation to place the Kahuku tower, something that would facilitate a decrease in the height of the tower itself. At the January North Shore Neighborhood Board meeting, First Wind representatives presented a “Photo Shopped” picture of what the tower in Waialua would look like and explained that they are planning to paint the tower an “earthy” tone, such as brown or green to “minimize visibility.”

North Shore residents asked why First Wind cannot run the signal through existing communication lines such as internet or cell phone towers. Wescoatt explained: “We need sub second communication. Basically the purpose is a high speed link so if Hawaiian Electric needs to disconnect the farm from the grid they can do that in under a second. Regular broadband would be too slow.”

First Wind plans to begin construction this year and is currently waiting for permit approval. According to Wescoatt, the Public Utilities Commission is currently reviewing the power purchase agreement, the legal contract between the electricity provider and a power purchaser.

Unlike fossil fuels, wind energy does not pollute the earth and cause carbon emissions that contribute to the growing problem of global warming. As of today, First Wind has one operating wind farm on Maui called Kaheawa Wind that generates 30 megawatts (MW) of energy, and is developing Kaheawa II, which is expected to generate 21 MW of energy. The company altogether produces 478 MW of energy through six operating wind farms throughout Hawaii, Utah, New York, and Maine.

Under the energy agreement signed between the State of Hawaii and Hawaiian Electric in October 2008 as part of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, Hawaiian Electric committed to increasing renewable energy statewide by 1,100 megawatts by 2030.

In March 2009, Governor Linda Lingle along with First Wind Hawaii and Hawaiian Electric Company announced that they made an agreement that could lead to large wind farms on both Lanai and Molokai that would generate wind energy that would provide clean energy to Oahu.

Lingle said in a statement: “This agreement can significantly help meet our goal of increasing energy independence for Hawaii by speeding up the addition of a large increment of clean energy onto the Oahu grid. It shows that we are making real progress toward our clean energy goals by working together in the best interests of Hawaii.”