Friday, April 27, was a red-letter day for "K2," the second phase of the Kaheawa Wind farm project built and operated by First Wind. Adding to the 20 turbines on the ridge above Ma'alaea, the last blade of the 14 newly installed wind towers was put into place, just before a visit from Public Utility Commissioners (PUC)--Chairperson Hermina Morita and members Michael Champley and John Cole.
Chairperson Morita hailed the big wind projects on Maui as a way to achieve "equity and fairness in the system." Those homeowners who can't afford to install photovoltaic systems on their homes can still enjoy the benefits of clean, renewable energy at stable prices, she said. Such energy is not just reserved for the well-to-do. And Hawai'i's goal of 40 percent renewable energy production by 2030 is furthered by these two projects.
Kekoa Kaluhiwa is the director of external affairs for First Wind, a Massachusetts-based company with 12 operating wind farms in the U.S.--two of them in Hawai'i--with another two in the state under construction. He makes those four wind projects accessible to the communities in which they operate. By providing tours for Hawai'i residents and information at community events, he connects a national corporation with the people of O'ahu and Maui.
Adding to the 20 turbines on the ridge above Ma‘alaea, the last blade of the 14 newly installed wind towers was put into place at Kaheawa Wind farm on April 27, completing phase two of the project. Each turbine will have the capacity to generate 1.5 megawatts (MW) of power per hour, or 21 MW together--enough to power 7,700 homes annually. Maui’s peak electrical usage is 194 MW. When the Kaheawa and Auwahi Wind farms are both online, together they will provide 72 MW of power.
Photo: Melanie Stephens
At a recent Blue Planet Foundation event on O'ahu, Kaluhiwa accepted the 2011 Honua Award for First Wind, "an award given to an individual or organization who has made significant contributions toward moving Hawai'i down the path to a clean energy future," according to the Blue Planet Website.
"We work hard to build projects that not only provide clean energy, but respect and protect the beautiful natural resources we have here in Hawai'i," stated Kaluhiwa.
Blue Planet highlighted that First Wind has been a true community partner and has taken meaningful steps to mitigate impact on wildlife and the environment.
But on April 27, the star attractions were the new wind towers, standing nearly 300 feet tall from base to blade tip, with blades measuring 112 feet. Each turbine will have the capacity to generate 1.5 megawatts (MW) of power per hour, or 21 MW together--enough to power 7,700 homes annually.
"At winds of 6 mph, these General Electric turbines start producing power," explained Kaluhiwa. "At 25 mph, they are at full energy output. If we have 10-minute durations of 55 mph winds, the turbines automatically shut down to protect the turbine components."
K2 will have a battery energy storage system which is being built by Xtreme Power, a Texas-based company, that will help smooth out the fluctuations in energy output that come with intermittent power sources like wind and solar.
Near the Kaheawa site is another state-of-the-art piece of technology--a Sodar Wind Profiler-- which measures and tracks wind. Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is collecting wind data, hoping that it will predict wind shifts in advance, thereby allowing the utilities to prepare for coming fluctuations.
"The name 'Kaheawa' describes the wind pattern typically found here. The windward side of Maui experiences cloud formations that seem to hover over the ridgeline," Kaluhiwa explained. "The upper area of K1 is a native, low-lying, dryland forest."
As Kaluhiwa stood at the top of K1, he pointed out a part of that project he cherished. The landscape is covered with 'a'ali'i, lehua and other native plants in full bloom.
"We harvested seeds from the native plants, propagated them at a native nursery at Ha'iku, then brought them back to be replanted," said Kaluhiwa. "Caring for the native plants was a part of the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for K1."
K2's HCP proposes to create two enclosures in Makamaka'ole, between Waihe'e and Kahakuloa, to create protected habitat and nesting grounds for the Hawaiian petrel and the Newell shearwater.
With five biologists and wildlife technicians on Maui, First Wind is committed to providing a "net benefit" to the native bird and bat species that may be impacted by K1 and K2. In addition, nighttime lights will be minimal, limited to FAA requirements for air traffic, to prevent harm to birds and bats.
Ed Reinhardt, president of Maui Electric Company (MECO), commented that the two wind farms--Kaheawa and Auwahi--share the wind. "When it's calm over in Ma'alaea, it can be windy over in 'Ulupalakua, and vice versa. These two sites will provide both more wind power and more consistent wind power, capturing more of the wind that flows around Maui."
Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa sees Maui's wind farms as something we can look back on and say, "We did something that really made sense: providing our own power. Maui's peak electrical usage is 194 MW. When Kaheawa and Auwahi are both online, together they will provide 72 MW of power. Considering the billions of dollars we currently spend on foreign oil each year that can be cut off to a small customer like Maui at any time, we need to protect our community by providing local power. And this is a big step forward."