ULUPALAKUA - When the Auwahi Wind project comes on line late this year, it will be "a building block for the future," Maui Electric Co. President Ed Reinhardt said Friday during the wind farm's Hawaiian blessing and groundbreaking ceremonies.
Because wind-generated power isn't tied to volatile fuel prices, Maui's second wind farm will help move MECO toward the goal of producing energy at a stable price, he said. The project won't immediately bring lower electric bills for consumers.
"It's still a small component of our greater use of oil," he said of wind power alternatives.
High winds buffet the barren landscape at the site of Friday morning’s blessing and groundbreaking ceremonies for Auwahi Wind at Ulupalakua Ranch. The 21-megawatt project by Sempra U.S. Gas & Power will include eight turbines.
Sempra U.S. Gas & Power photo
Reinhardt said that when Auwahi begins generating power for MECO, the utility will see around 16 percent of its power come from wind energy.
Already, MECO receives wind power from Kaheawa Wind Power, which has a 30-megawatt wind farm with 20 generators at Kaheawa pastures on a ridge above Maalaea. The company is adding 14 more turbines next to its current site, which will increase its overall capacity to 51 megawatts when all go on line.
Reinhardt said the incorporation of Auwahi Wind energy into the MECO grid will help the utility as it tries to meet a state-mandated goal of securing 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
On Friday, Reinhardt joined other power utility officials as well as business and government leaders who attended the official launching of the Auwahi Wind project. It is owned and operated by Sempra U.S. Gas & Power, which is based in San Diego. The more than 1,400-acre project is on Ulupalakua Ranch land along the coastline of Haleakala's southern flank. The wind farm will generate as much as 21 megawatts, enough to power about 10,000 typical homes.
The $140 million project will consist of eight 428-foot-tall wind turbines. (The number of turbines was reduced from an original plan of 15 to reduce environmental and cultural impacts as well as to nearly cut in half the amount of "superloads" needed to deliver and assemble wind turbine components at the project site.)
From the ground to the tip of the highest reach of a rotor blade, the Auwahi turbines will be approximately 42 stories high. That's about four times the height of the Kalana O Maui building in Wailuku.
The Public Utilities Commission has approved a 20-year contract for MECO to purchase power from the Auwahi Wind project.
"We need the clean energy," said Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz at a program following the blessing in Ulupalakua. "It starts with the community, and this is the model. This is the way we're going to work from now on."
Schatz and other speakers commended Ulupalakua Ranch President Sumner Erdman for his willingness to partner with Sempra.
Erdman said the partnership allows his family to balance its love for the land and its need to thrive economically.
"We love open space, and we love agriculture," Erdman told about 200 people gathered for the event. "This allows us to keep it intact."
After the program, Erdman said Sempra is leasing 5,280 acres of ranch land in the Auwahi area. Details of the lease are confidential, he said.
But he added that the lease arrangement helps the cattle ranch diversify its revenue as it struggles to deal with drought losses of cattle that have cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Although the groundbreaking was held Friday, some preliminary work has been ongoing, said Dan Hyatt, Sempra construction manager.
The digging for a water well on the farm site has begun, and the foundations have been poured for two meteorological towers that in the beginning stages will allow officials to monitor wind conditions.
Sempra officials also said other construction work will occur in a matter of days. That will include the realigning of Papaka Road on Ulupalakua Ranch property, which will allow Sempra to take supersized components of its wind turbines from Central and South Maui to the wind farm site.
Hyatt said the road will be laid with compacted gravel, not paved.
Electricity generated by the project's wind turbines will be carried by an overhead power line nine miles to Auwahi's substation, where the electricity will be fed into the MECO grid. Auwahi's substation is mauka of MECO's Wailea substation.
Hyatt said the wind on average blows consistently around 22 mph at the wind farm site. The turbines only need 7 mph winds to produce electricity.
This will be Sempra's fifth wind project nationally and its first in Hawaii. It already has wind projects in Colorado, Kansas, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
Scott Crider, Sempra's director of external affairs, said the company came to Hawaii because of the state's aggressive pursuit of alternative energy. The state aims to have 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Hawaiian Electric Co. and its MECO subsidiary support alternative energy development, he said.
And, Maui has winds that cannot be beat.
"It's consistent, and it's strong," Crider said.
Sempra is "very, very excited to be in the state right now," he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.
AUWAHI WIND PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS
* Eight wind turbines, capable of generating 21 megawatts, enough power for approximately 10,000 typical homes.
* Construction began in February, scheduled to finish late this year.
* The $140 million wind farm, owned and developed by Sempra U.S. Gas & Power, will be outfitted with a battery that has a capacity of 11 megawatts. The battery is designed to regulate and smooth intermittent wind power and deliver it to Maui Electric Co.'s grid.
* The wind farm is being built on Ulupalakua Ranch property makai of Piilani Highway.
* "Superloads" of major generator components are expected to be delivered and trucked via South Maui roads to the project site in August.
* Power generated is to be sold to MECO under a 20-year contract.
* Project is expected to provide about 150 jobs during construction and five during its operation.
* Online: www.SempraUSGP.com/auwahi