WAILUKU - The Maui Planning Commission unanimously approved permits Tuesday for Auwahi Wind Energy to build and operate eight 428-foot-tall wind turbines on Ulupalakua Ranch land.
Two dozen people testified on the proposed special use and special management area permits, and none were opposed to the project, according to planner Ann Cua. Some testifiers shared concerns about traffic, safety and visual impacts of the wind farm.
The project would have the capacity to generate 21 megawatts, which would be enough power to supply electricity to 10,000 homes. The $140 million project's infrastructure includes an energy storage system; a 9-mile, 34.5-kilovolt power line; an interconnection substation; a microwave communication tower; and a construction access road. Each generator pad would require about 2.4 acres of cleared area, while the entire project would cover 1,466 acres, almost entirely on Ulupalakua Ranch land.
Maui Planning Commission members Warren Shibuya and Penny Wakida listen to discussion Tuesday of Auwahi Wind Energy’s proposed wind farm project on Ulupalakua Ranch property.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
The project aims to provide power for Maui island only. It is not part of the "Big Wind" project, which calls for wind farms on Lanai and Molokai to provide power to Oahu via an underwater cable.
Commission members attached conditions to Auwahi's permits, including one that requires Auwahi Wind, a division of Sempra, to work with the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Ka Ohana O Kahikinui Inc. to develop a community benefits package. The groups would develop a plan and sign a memorandum of agreement addressing the roadway improvement and other needs of the Kahikinui homestead community.
The project area contains more than 1,100 archaeological features on 174 sites, and the developer has designed the turbines and power lines to avoid culturally sensitive burials and heiau.
A condition approved by the commission says that if a historic resource, including human skeletal remains, were found during construction, that all work would stop in the immediate vicinity of the find, and the State Historic Preservation Division would be contacted.
Planning commission member Ward Mardfin asked about plans for "blasting" during construction.
Planning consultant Leilani Pulmano of Munekiyo & Hiraga said the word "blasting" had caused some angst among those who have reviewed project plans. But she said a more accurate word would be the "fracturing of rocks," although that might include a "very small contained explosive" to break up hard blue rock, if found.
The commission's conditions require Auwahi Energy to obtain a noise permit from the state Department of Health before the project begins and that noisy construction activity, including blasting, if necessary, would be done between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Bud Pikrone, general manager of the Wailea Community Association, testified that his association has had ongoing discussions with Auwahi representatives about noise and traffic impacts on the South Maui resort area during the project's construction.
He said current discussions indicated that the developers were looking at eight total days for "superloads" of trucks, with one per week for eight weeks. He said a plan to have trucks on roads between 7 and 10 p.m. was a "pretty good compromise."
Pulmano said the developers were looking at that time frame for transporting "superloads" of materials for the wind generators. She said efforts would be made during construction to minimize traffic and road impacts.
The developers also studied the possibility of putting portions of power lines underground at locations where they would cross Kula and Piilani highways, but Pulmano said that burying the power lines would cost three times more than having them overhead, and digging would risk damaging dozens of archaeological sites in those areas.
Commission member Penny Wakida asked to have underground lines considered, saying she would prefer to maintain unobstructed views along roadways. But she cast the only vote opposing a motion to relieve the developer of a requirement to put the power lines underground when they intersected highways.
Commission member Warren Shibuya said he appreciated Wakida's concern about overhead power lines obstructing views, but he did not want to risk jeopardizing archaeological features by digging and putting them underground.
Commission members granted Auwahi's request for a 25-year term for the permit, until Nov. 30, 2036.
Commissioners also voted to grant a county special use permit for Maui Electric to develop an interconnection substation for the Auwahi project. The substation would enable the power utility to step up electricity from 32.5 kilovolts to 69 kilovolts with a microwave tower and a battery energy storage system.
Plans call for dividing construction traffic between Upcountry via Piilani Highway and Wailea-Makena via Papaka Road on Ulupalakua Ranch property.
The commission has the final say on county special use and special management area permits.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring. For Maui Electric to meet its renewable energy portfolio standards requirement, the utility is requiring the Auwahi wind project to begin operation by December 2012. After the project begins, Ulupalakua Ranch would continue to use its land to raise cattle.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.