It's still some distance from becoming a reality, but a large wind project planned for two Hawaiian Islands could bring substantial benefits to the island of Lanai.
An agreement reached recently between Castle & Cooke, which owns land on Lanai where wind turbines would be sited, and Hawaiian Electric Co., the state's major utility, is a first major step toward siting 400 MW of wind (enough to serve 120,000 average U.S. households) on Lanai and Molokai islands and transmitting the electricity generated to populous Oahu Island via undersea cable. The distribution of population on the islands has long been an obstacle to wind: Oahu has roughly 75% of the state's people, but only about 5% of its land, leaving little space for wind, while the other islands are too thinly populated to use much wind generation themselves.
What's in it for Lanai? Under the agreement, which still must be approved by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC):
— Electric rates for Lanai residents “levelized” to match those of Oahu. At today's electricity costs that would reduce Lanai residential electric rates by about 40% while Oahu residents, with a much larger customer base, would see only minor increases.
— Lanai to be 100% renewable for electricity by 2030, using solar, wind, biomass and biofuel resources, as far as possible originating on Lanai.
— Utility system improvements on Lanai to allow more customer-sited distributed generation, such as roof-top photovoltaic arrays.
— Increased solar water heating with the utility paying upfront costs and being repaid through shared savings on utility bills (pay-as-you-save).
With no approvals needed from the PUC, Hawaiian Electric also commits to:
— $50,000 a year during the life of the purchase power agreement (PPA) contributed to the Lanai Community Fund.
— $30,000 for at least two years from Hawaiian Electric and Maui Electric companies for a community-based campaign for energy efficiency and conservation on Lanai.
Castle & Cooke commits to the following provisions among others, subject also to approval by the Public Utilities Commission with input from the Consumer Advocate and other stakeholders on the purchase power agreement:
— Establish a Lanai Community Benefits Fund with proceeds of one percent of the wind farm’s gross revenues. Funds will be directed to economic diversification and job creation; medical and social/health services; education, training and recreation; and cultural and natural resource preservation as determined by a community committee, with at least $100,000 a year to the Lanai Cultural and Heritage Foundation.
— Employment on Lanai maintained at no lower than Castle & Cooke employment today.
— Priority for qualified Lanai residents in construction jobs and contractors required to ensure that all workers respect Lanai community standards in their behavior.
— Wind generation facilities to be removed when no longer in service.
— All contractors required to protect Lanai archeological and cultural sites, monitored by Lanai residents when possible.
— 5,000 acres reserved for creating a viable biofuel crop on Lanai.
— $250,000 a year for the term of the PPA for preservation of Lanai Hale watershed.
— At least $500,000 a year for the term of the PPA for capital improvements to the Lanai water system and 250,000 gallons of water a day above the current allocation to encourage diversified agriculture.
If and when the project comes to fruition, it would stand as a clear example of wind power's ability to provide economic benefits to local communities. Equally important, it would also reduce Oahu's oil consumption by 15%.