The developers of the Palehua Wind project say it’s one of the last and best sites to build a wind farm on Oahu.
But the project faces mounting criticism from environmentalists and community leaders.
According to Hawaiian Electric Co., the 2,000-acre wind farm in the Makakilo hills will provide enough electricity to power 25,000 homes at a cost much lower than power plants burning fossil fuels.
“It is among the two or three best wind sites on this island for sure and very competitive with the excellent wind sites on Maui,” said HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg.
HECO has signed a power purchase agreement with Eurus Energy America of San Diego, which is partnering with the Gill Family, which owns the hillside.
The Gills, which include former state Health Department official and ex-City Councilmember Gary Gill, hotel union executive Eric Gill and attorney Tony Gill, are well-known environmentalists.
They want to use money from the wind farm to preserve the Palehua Forest, which has been worn down by decades of ranching and neglect.
But environmentalists and community leaders say the wind farm’s 13 wind turbines ― each nearly 500 feet tall ― will be an eyesore and will harm local wildlife.
“We get it, no matter what’s bad. We get in West Oahu. We get the dumps, we get the refineries, we get all the ugly things nobody else wants,” said Makakilo Neighborhood Board member Kioni Dudley.
“The wind farms also kills birds, the area is an elepaio sanctuary, we have such a loss of pueo out there.”
A previous plan years ago was halted after major community opposition. Eurus Energy said it will only use half as many wind turbines as the prior project.
“We have specifically designed this project to minimize the visual issues. The easiest example is to not place turbines on the outer ridges of the project that overlook Nanakuli,” said Sarah Plucinski, project manager for Eurus Energy.
Attorney Tony Gill said it cost millions of dollars to restore the Palehua hillside and forest. He said erosion problem contributes to flooding downhill.
That happened in 2011 when runoff from three large rainstorms overwhelmed the Waimanalo Gulch landfill, sending tons of trash and medical waste into the Leeward Coast,” he said.
“Raw land eroded … the forest has been destroyed. the water has gone away and what you’re looking at is ecological chaos,” said Tony Gill.
The wind farm still years from completion. It needs an environmental study and approval from the Public Utilities Commission.