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December 19, 2011

Hawaii's Kawailoa Wind Project: A Blow-by-Blow Effort to Achieve Energy Independence



Centuries ago, Hawaiians began calling the persistently gusty weather over their islands the “trade winds” because it brought cargo ships to and from their Pacific paradise, supporting and expanding the economy. Today, those winds are still making it more economical to live in the 50th U.S. state, providing renewable energy to replace the expensive fossil fuels that the residents had previously relied on for residential, travel, and work-related power.

On December 13, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission approved an agreement between First Wind, an owner and operator of U.S. utility scale wind generation projects, and Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) for the utility to purchase renewable energy produced by the 69-megawatt (MW) Kawailoa wind farm project scheduled to break ground on Oahu’s north shore in late 2011. HECO projects that the facility will generate enough electricity to power about 14,500 Oahu homes.

First Wind has purchased 30 units of the Siemens SWT-2.3-101 turbine—each able to generate 2.3 megawatts—for the Kawailoa project.  The turbines have a strong performance track record, with more than 3,500 installed globally, and meet the technical requirements of the Hawaiian electric grid. When completed, Kawailoa Wind will be the largest wind energy project in the state.

Oahu is the third and most populous of the islands in the State of Hawaii, comprising a total land area of 596.7 square miles. The state capital Honolulu is located on the southeast coast. The new wind farm will be located on Oahu’s North Shore, on Kawailoa Plantation lands, above Haleiwa. The property is owned by the Kamehameha Schools, a private coeducational college preparatory institution.

First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor said the proposed Kawailoa Wind project will join First Wind's Maui-based Kaheawa Wind Power and Oahu-based Kahuku Wind project, and will further assist Hawaii in meeting its clean energy goals. . Opened in 2006, the 30 MW Kaheawa wind energy project above Ma’alaea, on the island of Maui, provides up to nine percent of the electricity distributed by Maui Electric Company and is in the process of expansion. Kahuku Wind Power on Oahu's North Shore is also a 30 MW wind project that generates energy equivalent to the power for 7,700 Oahu homes. The Kahuku project opened in March 2011.

"This project is significant as we continue down the path of greater energy independence and away from our reliance on expensive imported oil," said Governor Neil Abercrombie. "I appreciate the commitment that Kamehameha Schools and the North Shore community have made to move Oahu in the direction of harnessing our renewable energy. This was a collaborative effort and I congratulate First Wind and Hawaiian Electric for successfully negotiating this agreement and the Public Utilities Commission and Consumer Advocate for approving it in a timely manner."

Under the contract, Kawailoa Wind Power, a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based First Wind, will sell as-available renewable energy to Hawaiian Electric at pre-determined prices over 20 years. First Wind has been in discussions about the project with North Shore residents and community organizations for the past two years and has worked with landowner Kamehameha Schools and with federal, state, and county agencies to obtain permits.

As with other projects on Maui and Oahu, First Wind developed a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for Kawailoa Wind, working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Division of Forestry and Wildlife of the Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources. The HCP is a wildlife conservation effort that includes research funding and actions to protect and minimize incidental harm to federally listed species in the vicinity of the wind energy project.

"This wind project, along with the expansion of HPOWER [garbage-to-energy plant] and added solar power, will help free our customers from the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices. It is further evidence that we are doing all we can to tap the renewable energy available on Oahu, which has the greatest electricity demand in the state, but fewer viable resources than the neighbor islands," said Robbie Alm, Hawaiian Electric executive vice president.

“Our Kawailoa project will be the biggest step yet toward helping Hawaii meet its clean energy goals. We’re proud to be a part of Hawaii’s successful effort,” said Paul Gaynor, CEO of First Wind.


Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves


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