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Thursday, October 30, 2014         

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Groups fear damage to land by Lanai, Molokai wind farms

A survey finds cultural sites and access to hunting and fishing are among Lanai concerns

By Alan Yonan Jr.

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The damage that proposed wind farms on Lanai and Molokai could do to the islands' natural beauty and cultural sites outweighs the benefits they might have by helping the state reach energy self-sufficiency.

That was the message from several community groups that testified at a legislative hearing yesterday.

The projects, which would deliver a combined 400 megawatts of electricity to Oahu via undersea cables, are a major component of the state's plan to generate 40 percent of Hawaii's energy from renewable sources by 2030. The plan calls for the state to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels by another 30 percent through increased energy efficiency.

"I support clean energy, but I do not support the current plan, which calls for this mammoth abuse of our treasured aina," said Martha Evans, a member of Friends of Lanai.

"It's just another get-rich-quicker scheme concocted by those who already have so much at the expense of Lanai," Evans said at an informational briefing chaired by state Sens. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo-Waikele) and Roz Baker (D, South and West Maui).

Friends of Lanai was one of three groups opposing the wind farms at the meeting. There also was one group speaking in favor of the Molokai plan. In addition, there were presentations from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; Hawaiian Electric Co.; developers Castle & Cooke and First Wind LLC; and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Lanaians for Sensible Growth said it has been working during the last 18 months with the Hawaii Community Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development, the University of Hawaii School of Social Work and the UH Department of Urban and Regional Planning to get a sense of the community's position on the wind farm.

The group said a survey of 400 randomly selected households showed that a majority of those polled were concerned about access to hunting and fishing areas; a permanent altering of the landscape; destruction of cultural sites; and reducing their electric bills.

Yesterday's briefing came on the heels of an announcement by HECO and Castle & Cooke that they have agreed on a tentative price for electricity generated by the proposed Lanai wind farm.

The two sides also agreed on a "community benefits package" for Lanai residents, including a commitment to provide electricity to Lanai at the same rate paid on Oahu, a commitment from Castle & Cooke to maintain employment at today's level, the establishment of a Lanai Community Benefits fund with proceeds equaling 1 percent of the wind farm's gross revenues, and a pledge to give priority to qualified Lanai residents for construction jobs associated with the wind project.

The proposed wind farms on Lanai and Molokai are in the early planning stages, and no firm dates have been set for groundbreaking.

Castle & Cooke owns the land on which the Lanai wind farm would be built.

First Wind, meanwhile, has had difficulty nailing down a location for the Molokai wind farm. The Boston-based company "continues to work on securing land rights — that's a big step coming up that we need to resolve," said Wren Wescoatt, a development specialist for First Wind. Wescoatt, who grew up on Molokai and attended Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, said First Wind has been working hard to generate community support.

"I'd like to thank the many people who have been involved in that process. Whether they agreed or not, the important thing is that they participated," he said. "Without their help, we wouldn't have gotten this far, and we certainly aren't going to go much further unless the community supports it. I know that Molokai is the Friendly Isle, but it's not always the consensus isle."






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