Edit ModuleShow Tags

A Mighty Wind

Maui is on the cutting edge of energy production with a new wind farm—so why isn’t everyone happy?


Published:

Almost overnight, Maui has a new landmark: 20 towering windmills strung along one of the most visible ridgelines on the island.

The project had been stopping and starting for 10 years—long enough for many residents to forget they’d given the go-ahead to erect the towers, 180 feet tall without their rotors, along a windswept, rocky spine of the west Maui mountains overlooking the island’s central valley.

photo: Matt Thayer

They didn’t have long to get used to the new view. Just six months after developer Kaheawa Wind Power began pouring the foundations this winter, the turbines were in place and started turning in June. The quickie construction has left some Mauians with a touch of buyer’s remorse.

“Many of us were not paying attention,” says Hawaiian cultural activist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, who calls the towers “obtrusive,” saying they desecrate a slope rich in shrines, heiau and other cultural sites. “We thought it was going to be past the pali. All of a sudden it went up on the ridge above Ma‘alaea.”

Others look at the towers and see a monument to a green future. “It’s a helluva lot better than a giant smokestack burning diesel fuel,” says Lance Holter, chairman of the Sierra Club Maui Group.

Holter hopes the wind farm, standing as one of the first major sources of alternative energy on the island, possibly able to supply power equivalent to 244,000 barrels of oil per year, is just the first step in Maui’s energy independence, and that other renewables, from fuel-producing crops to solar cells, will soon follow.

Mike Gresham, president of Makana Nui Associates, a partner in Kaheawa Wind Power, hopes more Maui residents will see the towers from a positive vantage point.

“The benefits are huge, and they far outweigh the visual aspects in my mind,” he says. “I do think people will get used to it, and I hope they will come to look at it with a sense of pride.”

The site above Ma‘alaea, 200 acres on state conservation land running from 1,900 to 3,000 feet elevation, was picked because it had the best wind on the island, he adds. When it blows, it averages 25 miles per hour, hard enough to have the turbines operating at 40 percent of net total capacity year-round, compared to an average 30 percent capacity for most wind farms.

“It’s considered a very good site,” Gresham says.

That breeze is expected to power 10,000 to 11,000 Maui homes, satisfying 9 percent of the island’s energy needs.

Meanwhile, wind power is blowing into other parts of the state. Gresham’s company has received a contract with the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative to create a smaller wind farm, with seven turbines, on the Garden Island.

“We know oil is finite. We know it’s a dwindling resource,” Gresham says. “The issue is, how do we wean ourselves and move into a more sustainable environment for ourselves and our children? I think this is a step in the right direction.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Subscribe to Honolulu

Honolulu Magazine November 2018
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Trending

 

Black Friday and Small Business Saturday Cheat Sheet

Black Friday

Get the scoop on extended hours, day-of deals and deep discounts.

 

9 Greatest Honolulu Homes

Great Homes

Stunning, historic, extraordinary.

 

Can the Mainland Do Poke Right? Do We Want Them To?​

Poke

Martha Cheng, author of The Poke Cookbook and former line, talks about how a New York City publisher decided Hawai‘i’s favorite pūpū was for everybody.

 

50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime

Books

The most iconic, trenchant and irresistible island books, as voted by a panel of literary community luminaries.

 

Everything You Need to Know About Local Fruit in Hawai‘i

Fruit

Fruits are part of our history and culture, a way for us to feel connected to our community.

 

 

A Local’s Guide to Buying Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Sunscreen

Five Hawai‘i brands have created reef-safe sunscreens that are safe for your ʻohana and the ocean. 

Edit ModuleShow Tags