Kahuku wind farm wins state approval wind energy news gas jet size chart

An affiliate of California-based Champlin/GEI Wind Holdings LLC received the approval following a BLNR contested case that began about a year ago at the request of community group Keep the North Shore Country and Kahuku resident Elizabeth Rago.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said the wind farm will eliminate $4 million of annual foreign oil imports, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1 million tons over 20 years and help meet the state’s goal of deriving all electricity from renewable sources by 2045.

The Na Pua Makani project was first proposed by another developer in 2009 and was taken over by Champlin in 2013. Initially, Champlin proposed increasing the wind farm’s size to 45 megawatts from 25 megawatts with 14 turbines. The generation size and number of turbines were later reduced, though the height of the turbines and blade lengths were increased.

Kent Fonoimoana of Makani Pono o Kahuku contended that the nearest turbine in a 2013 version of the plan was around 1,200 feet from Kahuku Elementary School. Based on the size of the turbines at the time, city permitting rules allowed turbines as close as about 450 feet.

Yet negative impacts on endangered species became a more contentious issue, especially after DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife reported last year that Hawaii wind farms were killing far higher numbers of endangered hoary bats than expected.

Champlin produced its habitat conservation plan in 2016 using some of the same data in DLNR’s report. The company developed the plan through consultation with DOFAW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a scientific panel, the Endangered Species Review Committee, that advises DLNR’s board.

A big influence in the plan was an adjacent existing wind farm that has operated with 12 turbines since 2011. This project reduced bat deaths by turning its blades parallel to the wind whenever it was under 11 miles per hour and between sunset and sunrise from April to November because bats are more likely to be active during these hours and months and in light wind.

To compensate for the expected loss, Champlin will spend $1.8 million to help improve and preserve bat habitat being destroyed by feral pigs and invasive weeds at Poamoho Ridge. The company must spend another $894,000 on such mitigation if more than 34 bats are killed, and will spend $100,000 on research to help keep bats from being killed by wind turbines.

Champlin also will spend around $400,000 to enhance habitat for several native bird species facing more minimal potential of death from the wind farm. In all, DLNR said the company could spend as much as $4.6 million on environmental benefits. Another $10,000 per wind turbine per year, or up to $2 million over 20 years, will go into a fund to benefit the Kahuku community.

Local attorney Yvonne Izu, who served as the hearings officer in the contested case and held evidentiary hearings in August, issued a recommendation in November for BLNR to deny the plan primarily over bat issues. Izu had supported the 14.5 mph minimum wind speed to run turbines.

BLNR heard arguments directly during a January hearing. In a written decision filed Wednesday, the board sided with Champlin and said it appeared that Izu did not give sufficient weight to the scientific advisory panel and DOFAW or accept the preservation of bat habitat away from windmills as mitigation for windmills killing bats.