Kahuku wind farm is one step closer to construction

Jade Eckardt

NORTH SHORE—Kahuku Wind (KW), the developers of the first wind farm Oahu has seen in approximately 20 years, recently gained approval from the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission for a power purchase agreement (PPA), the legal contract which enables the utility to purchase the power produced by the wind farm, between the clean energy company and Hawaii Electric Light Company (HECO). KW, a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based First Wind, expects the farm to generate 80,000 megawatt hours of clean energy each year, all of which will go into the Oahu power grid after construction of the 12 turbine wind farm begins later this year. 

In a recent First Wind press release, the independent North American wind energy company reported that under the terms of the PPA contract, KW will sell as-available renewable energy to Hawaiian Electric at pre-determined prices over a 20-year span, providing a valuable hedge against fluctuating oil prices. The Kahuku project will have the capacity to produce enough energy to power the equivalent of 7,700 Oahu homes, reduce oil consumption by about 153,000 barrels a year, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 96 million pounds per year, according to statistics from the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy.

“With long-term pricing de-linked from the cost of oil, this new source of renewable energy is a step toward breaking our vulnerability to the fluctuating price of oil and increasing our energy security,” said Hawaiian Electric President and CEO Dick Rosenblum.

According to First Wind representative Wren Wescoatt, “The project consists of 12 wind turbines and a microwave communication tower that is 30 feet high.” The wind turbines are manufactured by Clipper Liberty, a wind energy technology company, and will each have 2.5 MW capacity.

The microwave communication system will connect the wind energy project to the Hawaiian Electric system operations and dispatch center. Wescoatt described the communication tower as, “Part of a communication system where First Wind needs antennas at six different locations to function. It’s a safety measure to enable HECO 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.”

The 575 acre parcel where the farm will be constructed is near Charlie Road, between Kahuku Town and Turtle Bay, mauka of Kamehameha Highway on land that First Wind owns. Construction is slated to begin later this year.

“The farm will have the largest battery energy storage system (BESS) in Hawaii,” Wescoatt said. Describing the BESS, developed by Xtreme Power Inc., Wescoatt explained, “Essentially, it’s short term storage. As wind gets stronger, the turbines generate more electric output. It goes up and down as the wind dies. So it uses power that is stored in the batteries and injects it into the grid when the wind dies so that the energy generated is even. It mediates the increase and decrease in wind.”

First Wind is currently focusing on developing wind farms in the northeastern and western regions of the continental United States and Hawaii. They have one wind farm currently operating on Maui called Kaheawa Wind that generates 30 megawatts (MW) of energy, providing up to nine percent of the electricity distributed by Maui Electric Company, and are 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.

Unlike fossil fuels, wind energy does not pollute the earth nor cause carbon emissions that contribute to the growing problem of global warming. 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.