First Wind catches a breeze of support from Kamehameha Schools

Jade Eckardt

NORTH SHORE—First Wind, an independent North American wind energy company, has been offered a place on Kamehameha Schools property in Kawailoa to be home to a 220-foot high tower that will be part of a communication system for the Kahuku wind farm they are constructing. The tower is expected to generate 30 mega watts of clean energy. The company, which is currently focusing on developing wind farms in the northeastern and western regions of the United States and Hawaii, has been searching for a sufficient location for the tower to quell North Shore resident’s concerns over the location, height, and proximity of the tower to homes.

According to First Wind representative Wren Wescoatt, “The tower is part of a communication system where First Wind needs antennas at six different locations to function. It’s a safety measure to enable HECO (Hawaiian Electric Company) to communicate with the control. The system allows for grid stability. HECO can disconnect the farm’s energy from the grid if there is a fault on it, such as a pole going down nearby, then HECO can stop our energy from running on the grid.”

Wescoatt said Kamehameha Schools were happy to open the land to First Wind in support of renewable energy, something that has been part of their progress plan for years and can be seen on their in progress North Shore Plan.

“We had originally chosen a site in Mokuleia for a 120 foot tower but residents were concerned about height and location,” Wescoatt explained. “We decided to analyze different alternatives and Kamehemeha Schools offered a place in Kawailoa where we may install the tower over a mile from the highway. As of right now it’s still up in the air. A definite location has not been decided.” Wescoatt said the height of the tower depends on the location, with a higher location facilitating a decrease in tower height which must be at least 60 feet.

At a recent North Shore Neighborhood Board meeting, First Wind representatives presented a “photo shopped” picture of what the towers will look like and explained that they are planning to paint them an “earthy” tone, such as brown or green to “minimize visibility.” First Wind representatives at the meeting said that if the Kawailoa property is chosen for the location of the tower, it will “barely be visible” from the highway.

North Shore residents asked why First Wind cannot run the signal through existing communication lines such as Internet or cell phone towers. Wescoatt said: “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 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 nor cause carbon emissions that contribute to the growing problem of global warming. 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.