Turbines symbolic of locally produced renewable energy

ULUPALAKUA – With the 428-foot-tall wind turbines in the Auwahi Wind energy project completed, state and community officials viewed the towers dotting the southern slope of Haleakala as a symbol of renewable energy.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui and Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa joined representatives from Sempra U.S. Gas and Power, BP Wind Energy and community members in a Hawaiian blessing, conducted by Kahu Dane Maxwell on Friday morning along the ridgeline of Haleakala. More than 200 people attended the blessing and dedication.

“The wind farm is symbolic,” said Sharon Suzuki, president of Maui Electric Co. “It represents locally produced energy, adding 21 megawatts to the renewable energy portfolio. . . . It also represents stable electricity prices in the future for our customers.”

Auwahi Wind is a joint venture between two national utility companies, Sempra and BP, and the $140 million energy project is their first wind energy project in the state. It was completed and became operational in December.

Situated on 1,466 acres of Ulupalakua Ranch land, the project includes eight wind turbines capable of powering 10,000 homes. The project also created about 180 construction jobs and four full-time operating positions.

“We are very pleased that Auwahi Wind was completed on time, on budget and, most importantly, with an impeccable safety record.” said Kevin Sagara, vice president of renewables and corporate development of Sempra. “This project will provide clean, sustainable power to Maui residents for generations and will bring Hawaii another step closer to meeting its goal to derive 40 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030.”

In 2009, the state Legislature enacted a mandate for Hawaii to increase its renewable energy portfolio to 40 percent by 2030.

Last year, MECO agreed to a 20-year contract with Auwahi Wind, and Suzuki said its addition increases to about 16 percent the amount of power produced by wind energy on Maui.

The project will help Hawaiian Electric Co., the parent company of MECO and Hawaii Electric Light Co., meet its 15 percent renewable energy benchmark by 2015, said Suzuki. According to HECO, renewable sources made up 12 percent of company sales in 2011, which is up from about 10 percent in 2010.

Arakawa said that the ultimate goal is to be 100 percent energy self-sufficient and that local power generation is much more dependable than foreign petroleum.

“There’s no question in my mind that we have to go to 100 percent eventually,” he said. “My major challenge is to get that ‘eventually’ to happen as quickly as possible.”

On a personal note, Arakawa said that his electricity bill was nearly $400 a month, and he recently installed solar panels to his home.

“Last month, my bill was a little under $19,” he said. “You have to make the initial investment, but I’ll get a return in three years . . . and that should be afforded by every citizen within our community.”

Sumner Erdman, president of Ulupalakua Ranch, said that increases in electricity rates and the need to diversify were the primary reasons why he decided to lease his land for the renewable energy project. The wind farm provides another avenue of revenue for his 18,000-acre ranch.

“I always knew the wind was out there,” he said. “It’s a very tough place to work cattle because it’s gusty and the rocks fly and dust gets in your eyes.”

He also said that land was a factor in his decision, opting for the wind farm rather than solar panels, which would occupy much more acreage and disallow land available for grazing.

Schatz, who spoke at the ranch store after the blessing, said that the project sets a nationwide example for renewable energy.

“This allows Ulupalakua Ranch to generate the revenues to stay in ranching,” he said. “This is about keeping Maui, Maui, and setting an example, not just for the state, but for the rest of the nation.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at