While experts agree Hawaii has tremendous wind-power potential, tapping that resource has become mired in controversy, in part because of development plans that would place hundreds of turbines on the more remote islands of Lanai and Molokai while shipping the electricity to Oahu, home to roughly 1 million people and the capital Honolulu. Photo courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The $3 billion "Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program – Wind" would allow 400 megawatts of new wind energy to be generated on the rural islands of Lanai and Molokai, then ship the electricity to bustling Oahu via an undersea cable.
Hawaiian Electric Company, which is spearheading the project along with the state and two wind farm developers, says the project -- also known as "Big Wind" -- is essential to achieve the state’s tough renewable portfolio standard of 40 percent by 2030.
But the project faces stiff opposition from Lanai and Molokai residents, who argue the wind farms would damage the rural islands' fragile ecosystems and dramatically change their rural character.
Some also question the need to link the islands' electricity grids with an expensive subsea cable when there are so many sources of renewable energy throughout the Hawaiian islands. And Oahu ratepayers could be saddled with a $1 billion bill to cover the cable's cost.
"There's just been a mad dash to build this wind farm on Lanai and the undersea cable," said one critic, state Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R)
Proponents argue a decision not to build "Big Wind" will keep Hawaii tethered to expensive oil and natural gas imports to meet the islands' electricity needs. "The analogy given around here is, 'We're all in the same canoe, we all have to paddle in the same direction,'" said a HECO spokesman.