Hawaiian Electric crews have started utility work to connect the wind turbines from the controversial Na Pua Makani project in Kahuku to the electric grid.
In a news release, Hawaiian Electric said it is installing overhead power lines along Kamehameha Highway to connect the project’s eight, 568-foot turbines to the grid. The utility work could continue until today.
Opponents lined the highway today to demonstrate against the project.
“We had about 50 people turn out to voice their displeasure about the Na Pua Makani project, which was connected to the grid today,” Sen. Gil Riviere (D, Heeia-Laie-Waialua) said. “The community isn’t giving up.”
Riviere participated today in the demonstration. Including the eight new turbines, there are now 20 total in Kahuku.
Opponents argue the turbines are too close to schools and homes, may impact the health of Hawaiian hoary bats, and were approved despite years of opposition from residents.
Native Hawaiian rights also became an increasingly important part of opponents’ rhetoric, as the project became viewed as part of a systemic encroachment on Hawaiian culture and resources.
The nonprofit Keep the North Shore Country is in an ongoing lawsuit against Na Pua Makani challenging the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision to approve the project’s Final Habitat Conservation Plan and Incidental Take License. The license would allow for some incidental killings of the Hawaiian hoary bat, which is endangered and native to Hawaii.
The case was transferred to the Hawaii Supreme Court in late February. KNSC recently filed a motion for stay upon appeal that would have temporarily suspended the habitat conservation plan and incidental take license, but the motion was denied.
Some opponents are upset that residents’ voices aren’t being heard.
“Why should the people keep protesting?” said Choon James, who was a mayoral candidate during this year’s elections and has a farm in Kahuku. “Residents should at least be able to rest assured that they don’t have to use the courts to be heard, because that is a very, very expensive process.”
The staunchest opposition to the 24-megawatt renewable energy project by developer AES Corp. was concentrated last year around the transportation of turbine parts from Kalaeloa to Kahuku, a 20-mile trip.
About 200 arrests from October to November were made in connection to attempts to stop crews from hauling the parts to Kahuku.
“We respect people’s right to voice their opinions about the project, and we are committed to continuing a dialogue with community members interested in discussing how we can achieve a better future for Hawaii together — and what we can do to continue being a good community partner,” Sandra Larsen, Hawaii market business leader for AES, said in a statement today. “Ultimately, we are confident that the Na Pua Makani wind project will safely harness the plentiful wind on the North Shore and convert it to power up to 16,000 homes on Oahu later this summer.”
AES said the Na Pua Makani turbines are on track to be operational at the end of the summer, although a specific date has not been announced.