Hawaii’s Biggest Wind Farm Under Construction

Ernst & Young’s recent ranking of the states on their renewable energy attractiveness had Hawaii at fourth in the U.S., a lofty spot attributed mainly to the state’s “small-scale solar market.” But wind is making some inroads on the islands, too, as evidenced by First Wind’s recent groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of a big project on Oahu’s North Shore.

The 69-megawatt (MW) Kawailoa Wind project is rising on Kawailoa Plantation lands owned by the Kamehameha Schools, one of the North Shore’s biggest land holders [PDF]. First Wind said 30 2.3-MW Siemens wind turbines will be constructed on the site and once completed latest this year, Kawailoa will be the largest wind power plant in Hawaii.

image via First Wind

Driving the development is a Hawaii state law that mandates 70 percent of the state’s energy for electricity and surface transportation come from clean sources by 2030, with 40 percent coming from local, renewable sources.

Power from Kawailoa Wind will be go to Hawaiian Electric Company under a 20-year agreement approved by state regulators in December 2011 [PDF]. Hawaiian Electric said that as part of the permitting process, First Wind developed a habitat conservation plan for Kawailoa Wind that includes “research funding and actions to protect and minimize incidental harm to federally listed species in the vicinity of the wind energy project.”

While wind farms can be controversial with environmentalists and rural land owners, Kamehameha Schools said Kawailoa Wind will actually help preserve the area’s character. “This project will not only help the state meet its renewable energy goals, but it will also help preserve and support continued agricultural production for future generations,” Giorgio Caldarone, regional asset manager and renewable energy sector lead for Kamehameha Schools, said in a statement.

First Wind has additional wind projects in both Oahu and Maui. Kahuku Wind, on Oahu’s North Shore, is a 30-MW wind project that has the capacity to generate enough energy to the power the equivalent of 7,700 Oahu homes. The Kahuku project went online in March of 2011.  The company is also in the midst of building a second Maui project, Kaheawa Wind Power II that will consist of 14 wind turbines, capable of generating 21 MW of energy. Once Kaheawa Wind II is complete, the two Kaheawa projects will have a capacity of 51 MW.

Kristy Hessman is a writer and native Oregonian who currently resides in California. Before starting her own company, she worked as a reporter covering business and politics for daily newspapers and The Associated Press.