KAHULUI - It was supposed to be a "scoping" meeting to get an idea of what questions need to be answered about the environmental impact of an enormous wind power project, but a good many of the 20 testifiers Wednesday had already decided they had the answer: not here in Maui County for the benefit of Oahu.
Others were less final but quite skeptical, and only a single testifier, Sean Lester, was squarely in favor of the proposed Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program. He called it "visionary."
The meeting at Pomaikai Elementary School attracted about 50 people, and other meetings either have been held or will soon be held on every island involved: Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
Wind turbines generate electricity Wednesday at the Kaheawa wind farm above Maalaea.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
A common complaint was that the documents so far released are unspecific. Tony Como of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability said that was the nature of a "programmatic" environmental impact statement. These are "somewhat unique in Hawaii" but familiar in federal projects.
Its purpose, he said, is to cover broadly the implications of the state's policy of moving to 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. Once the broad picture is available, a second, site-specific environmental impact statement would be initiated.
The deadline for the first part of the process is April 2012, because the project is counting on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds that expire after that.
Environmental lawyer Isaac Hall challenged him on the structure of the process.
First, Hall said, every environmental impact study needs to cover full impacts, not as, in this case, just a wind farm (and undersea cables to deliver the electricity) or no wind farm.
"You're subverting the Environmental Policy Act," he said, and at the end, a supplemental environmental impact statement would be needed to rectify the problem.
Second, said Hall, the laws require not just a comprehensive but a specific inquiry. By not specifying exactly what is under consideration, the public is discouraged from offering its input.
He ridiculed the "to be determineds" in the preliminary document, such as what zoning would be required. "You know that," he said.
As for where the wind towers would be erected or where the cables would enter and exit the ocean, the document says those are "to be determined," but an accompanying map shows routes. "That looks like Kaneohe Marine Corps Base to me," he said.
And he said that, at the very least, the Lanai requirements are all known, since Castle & Cooke (though he did not name the company) has planned for a big wind project, and it owns almost the whole island.
Hall also wanted to know why the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism refuses to release the financial study, since "it was probably paid for by taxpayers."
On Thursday, Joshua Strickler of the State Energy Office said the report was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy and is under review.
"It should be finished by the end of the month" and will then be made public, he said.
That would not be in time for the closing of the scoping comments, March 1.
Those proposing the project say wind was chosen because it is the "most commercially available" technology, and Maui County because Oahu does not have as good a wind regime - although Kahuku has been the site of several experiments and a (failed) commercial wind farm.
Doug McLeod, the Maui County energy coordinator, said the proposal appeared to allow for the wind towers to be built on Maui, and he wanted clarification about generating sites. He also questioned what he called the "apparent underlying assumption" that Oahu could not generate its own wind power.
Several testifiers framed that question in a different mode: All the benefits go to Oahu, and all the costs apply to Molokai and, especially, Lanai, they said.
Hokuao Pellegrino said he was very much in favor of renewable energy and after some doubts had come to welcome the Kaheawa wind farm on Maui, but he could not justify the impact on Lanai "at the cost of so many resources," especially cultural resources.
Edwin "Ekolu" Lindsey III also said he didn't see enough benefits balancing out the costs. "How about free energy" for the people affected, he asked. "How about free tuition" to the University of Hawaii?
Jocelyn Perreira, coordinator of the Tri-Isle Main Street Resource Center (which includes Lanai City as one of its nine towns), said she was speaking at the request of Lanai residents who were "intimidated and fearful" of losing their jobs or rental housing. She said "the benefit package (offered to Lanai residents) is far from reasonable."
Hawaiian Electric and Castle & Cooke have offered Lanai residents a benefits package in exchange for a 400-megawatt wind farm on the island that would require 170 towers and generate 20 jobs for residents.
The benefits for residents range from lower electric rates and guaranteed employment to hunting access and water rights.
Several testifiers said the number of jobs generated would not be enough.
DeGray Vanderbilt, who said he was asked by Molokai residents to come to Wednesday's meeting to help prepare them for their own meeting Thursday at Mitchell Pauole Center, said that at the Oahu meeting Molokai Ranch indicated that it was not interested in participating.
If those proposing the project still want to go ahead on Molokai, he suggested, the government could condemn the land of the ranch.
Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, asked whether, if Molokai is not part of the deal, would it still be part of the project.
Warren Shibuya criticized the proposal for being too narrow. It should look to more kinds of alternative energy and especially more places.
"Oahu has not increased using land areas to generate both kinetic and radiant energy," he said. "Today, Oahu has large shopping, business, home, and condo and apartment roof areas lacking PV (photovoltaic) arrays. Oahu has not used mountain and hillsides to capture and convert wind power."
Like several other testifiers, he suggested that Oahu should not exploit Neighbor Island resources until it has undertaken its own initiatives at home.
Beverly Zigmond, a Lanai resident who came to the Maui meeting, was among several who asked about decommissioning the project at the end of its useful life.
She and others also wondered what would be done with the dirt excavated for the pads for the towers.
The last of the four scoping meetings will be at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Lana High and Elementary School.
The proposal, plus information about the process and how to submit comments, can be found at www.hirep-wind.com.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.