Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Maui gets largest wind farm in state

Maui gets largest
wind farm in state
The energy project calls for
20 turbines at Ukumehame
By Gary Kubota

WAILUKU » The largest wind energy project in the state is expected to be completed on Maui in the first quarter of 2006.

Kaheawa Wind Power LLC plans to build a $65 million wind farm at Ukumehame on the southern slopes of the West Maui Mountains.

"It's truly a milestone," said Mike Gresham, president of Makana Nui Associates, the minority partner. "We're excited for what it means for our Maui community as well as the state."

The new wind farm is expected to produce about 9 percent of Maui Electric Co.'s total power, bringing to 15 percent the amount of energy provided by renewable sources.

Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., which burns primarily bagasse, provides about 6 percent of Maui Electric's total power.

Gresham said that if the cost of oil continues to remain the same or increase, consumers on Maui will receive a savings in electrical cost, because the price of wind energy will remain relatively stable.

Kaheawa Wind Power, whose majority owner is UPC Wind of Newton, Mass., plans to build 20 General Electric wind turbines, each capable of producing up to 1.5 megawatts of power.

The wind turbines, with a blade height of roughly 280 feet, will be built on leased state land at Kaheawa pastures from an elevation of 1,600 feet to 3,000 feet, he said.

Based on previous studies done for the state, Gresham said the wind turbines will not be viewable from many locations on Maui.

MECO has entered into a 20-year agreement to buy wind power at about 8 cents per kilowatt hour, with a clause that allows a 1.5 percent annual increase for inflation, he said.

The "avoided cost" of a new petroleum-fired generator is about 12 to 13 cents per kilowatt hour, the company said.

Maui Electric President Ed Reinhardt said assuming the wind power was used starting January, his company might see a reduction in the use of about 168,000 barrels of diesel oil in 2006.

Reinhardt, whose company has about 58,000 residential and business customers, said while wind energy is not regarded as "firm power" that can be relied upon 24 hours a day, the projected energy produced by Kaheawa Wind is equivalent to providing electricity to 11,000 homes.

"It's going to be good for us here," Reinhardt said. "We want to get more renewable energy on Maui."

Gresham said based on a prior study, he anticipates the wind will be as robust as any mainland location.

He said the partnership expects to employ four to six technicians.

The interim and permanent financing was arranged by HSH Nordbank, a New York subsidiary of a German bank, and the electrical contractor is ABB Inc. Construction.

The development of wind energy at Ukumehame began in the mid-1990s and control of the venture has changed a few times.

Other wind projects in the works in the state include a 10.5-megawatt wind farm at Hawi and a 12.5-megawatt addition to a 7-megawatt facility at South Point on the Big Island.

Makana Nui Associates is a partnership of developer Kent Smith and electrical engineering consultant Hilton Unemori.