Hawaii Gets Big Wind, Helping Give Oil The Boot

Hawaii, hard at work to make its own power and make it clean, has a new “biggest” wind farm in operation. Kawailoa Wind on Oahu’s North Shore is now in commercial operation, developer First Wind announced on Monday, delivering up to 69 megawatts of power.

What does 69 MW mean for Oahu? “At full output, (the wind farm) has the potential to meet as much as five to ten percent of Oahu’s annual electrical demand and avoid the burning of about 300,000 barrels of oil each year,” First Wind said in its announcement.

Kawailoa Wind, Oahu, First Wind

Kawailoa Wind, Oahu (image via First Wind)

Driving the development was 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 goes to Hawaiian Electric Company under a 20-year agreement approved by state regulators in December 2011. 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 actually helps 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 when construction was getting under way.

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 2011. And just this past July, the company put a second Maui project, Kaheawa Wind Power II, that consists of 14 wind turbines, capable of generating 21 MW of energy. With an earlier project at the site, which went online in 2006, the two Kaheawa projects have a capacity of 51 MW.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.