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Hawaii News

Judge upholds board’s decision on wind farm plan

A Circuit judge on Wednesday affirmed a state board’s decision to approve the specific limitations put in place for the developer of a 25-megawatt wind farm on Oahu’s North Shore in regard to its impacts on opeapea, or Hawaiian hoary bats.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted 5-1 last year to approve the developer’s habitat conservation plan and “incidental take” license in a contested case filed by Keep the North Shore Country, a group concerned about the endangered native bats’ welfare.

A hearing officer agreed the developer’s habitat conservation plan did not comply with environmental laws, and the group appealed BLNR’s decision.

But Circuit Judge Jeffrey Crabtree found no wrongdoing in the board’s decision-making process.

He noted that BLNR relied on the expertise of the Endangered Species Recovery Committee (ESCR) and its “bat guidance report,” which represented “serious efforts made to collect information and have that information inform and guide decision-making to preserve and protect opeapea.”

“The court finds no fault in the BLNR relying on and adopting the ESRC’s expertise in general, and its findings and conclusions on opeapea specifically,” Crabtree said in his decision.

Crabtree also said the court was satisifed that the board’s decisions were made on the best available data, and that the incidental take license, based on the estimate of bat deaths from the project, were reasonably adjusted to account for several uncertain factors.

Na Pua Makani Power Partners LLC plans to build a wind farm with up to nine turbines near Kahuku High School. The proposed Na Pua Makani wind project is expected to sell power to Hawaiian Electric Co. for about 15 cents per kilowatt- hour over a 20-year period.

The developer estimates the project would reduce carbon emissions by 1 million tons and power 9,000 Oahu homes per year over the 20-year period. Na Pua Makani Power Partners was also willing to spend up to $4.6 million to minimize negative impacts.

Oahu currently has two wind farms on the North Shore and power purchase agreement for two others with HECO, including Na Pua Makani and Palehua Wind, a 46.8-megawatt project proposed on the slopes above Kahe Power Plant in West Oahu.

“The court’s hope and expectation, based on the evidence presented, is that rather than seeing this case as ‘green vs. green,’ by applying and enforcing Hawai‘i’s strong environmental protections, the result will be a win-win, rather than a win-lose,” Crabtree said in his decision.

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