Molokai Properties Ltd. said it is teaming up with a new company to develop a proposed wind energy project on the island after it was unable to come to terms with its previous partner, First Wind LLC.
MPL joined forces with San Francisco-based Pattern Energy Group on the project that, as envisioned, would transmit wind-generated electricity to Oahu via an undersea cable. The project, with 90 wind turbines and a generating capacity of 200 megawatts, represents half of the so-called Big Wind project that would include the transmission of an equal amount of wind energy from Lanai to Oahu.
Executives from Pattern and Molokai Properties held three community meetings in early March to brief the community on the proposal, said Peter Nicholas, MPL’s chief executive officer. Nicholas said he hoped Pattern’s plan would be better received by the community than what had been proposed by First Wind.
MPL broke off talks with First Wind in November following two rounds of negotiations in which the two sides were unable to reach agreement on a land price and the approach to community involvement. MPL, which also does business as Molokai Ranch, owns 60,000 acres on Molokai, or about 40 percent of the island.
“First Wind was unsuccessful in meeting MPL’s criteria for community engagement, a critical factor for such a project to be successful,” Nicholas said in an email. “I believe that First Wind contacted a portion but not all of the members of the community. We expect Pattern Energy to engage all of the community members.”
In a letter to the Molokai Land Trust published in the Molokai Dispatch newspaper last July, Nicholas said First Wind’s offer to buy the land did not meet MPL’s requirements.
The developer for the proposed Lanai wind project is Castle & Cooke Inc., which owns most of the 141-square-mile island. The state Public Utilities Commission gave Hawaiian Electric Co. approval last fall to negotiate with both Castle & Cooke and First Wind to buy electricity from the respective wind projects.
Castle & Cooke met a March 21 deadline imposed by the PUC to submit details of the project laying the groundwork for an eventual power purchase agreement with HECO.
First Wind missed the deadline, citing its inability to secure land for the wind project. First Wind, which is not an official party in the case before the PUC, asked HECO to petition the commission for a deadline extension on its behalf. When HECO declined, First Wind appealed directly to the PUC in a March 17 letter. The PUC has yet to decide whether it will consider First Wind’s request.
HECO would not comment on the status of its talks with First Wind or Pattern Energy.
“We are working through these issues now and hope to be able to provide more details in the coming weeks," HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said.
Officials from Pattern Energy, meanwhile, said they are optimistic they can succeed where First Wind had difficulty.
“Pattern places great importance on being an active part of the local communities in which we operate,” said David Parquet, the company’s director of solar, transmission and fossil development.
“We maintain an ongoing dialogue with community members to ensure that we move forward together in a direction that provides significant local benefits. We acknowledge that every community is unique and are committed to engaging with and learning from the community.”
Pattern Energy, formed in 2009 as a spinoff of global investment advisory firm Babcock & Brown, has expertise in both wind energy and electrical transmission systems. The company has been consulting with the state’s energy office on the proposed undersea cable project that would connect Oahu with Molokai and Lanai.
In their presentation to Molokai residents, Pattern Energy officials said they hoped to locate their wind turbines on 11,000 acres leased from Molokai Properties both north and south of Maunaloa. The 2.3-megawatt wind turbines proposed by Pattern Energy have blades that reach 414 feet at their peak. That compares with a peak of 460 feet for First Wind’s turbine blades at its new wind project in Kahuku.
Parquet said the company has taken steps to alleviate community concerns that the wind turbines would be abandoned at the end of their useful life. Pattern Energy would provide a “decommissioning bond” that would cover the cost of removing the turbines should that be necessary, he said.