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City ordinance change requires wind developers to hold public hearings

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    Developers seeking to build wind turbines on Oahu will now be required to hold a public hearing when seeking a permit. North Shore wind turbines are seen at sunrise Aug. 16.

Wind developers looking to build on Oahu are now required to give the public more opportunity to be heard.

On Thursday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed a bill that requires wind farm developers looking to build in agricultural or country zones on Oahu to host a public hearing, present details to the area neighborhood board or community association and notify nearby property owners of the pending permit application.

The ordinance, which requires developers of wind machines to obtain a conditional use permit major instead of a conditional use permit minor, took effect Thursday. A conditional use permit minor does not require a public hearing. The intent of the rule change is to provide more occasions for public input before a developer can obtain a permit. The changes would apply to developers looking to build wind turbines with more than 100 kilowatts of capacity or standing 400 feet tall.

Caldwell signed the bill after it passed a third reading at a Honolulu City Council meeting earlier this month. The changes were first proposed in 2015, and in April 2016 the City Council Committee on Zoning and Planning asked the Planning Commission to take up the issue. In April of this year, the Honolulu Planning Commission’s six members voted unanimously to change the city’s Land Use Ordinance.

The new guidelines would not apply to the latest wind project for Oahu, which consists of eight to nine wind turbines planned to be built near Kahuku. Na Pua Makani Power Partners LLC is working to build a 25-megawatt wind farm. The city approved the project, and it will not be bound by the new guidelines. The company held several public hearings but was met with opposition from the community as the facility is the second wind farm near Kahuku.

Hawaiian Electric Co. is looking to add more wind to its power mix on Oahu, as the utility said in January it is searching for developers to build wind projects on the island ahead of the expiration of a federal tax credit for wind power. The federal tax credit for large wind projects, which was 30 percent last year, decreased to 24 percent this year, lowers to 18 percent in 2018 and ends at 12 percent in 2019.

HECO said building wind projects before the tax credit expires would keep electrical rates low and help the utility reach the state’s goal of getting 100 percent of its electric power from renewable energy by 2045.

In December HECO submitted plans that included adding 157 megawatts of utility-scale wind power across Maui, Oahu and the Big Island in the next five years.

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