Most Sundays when he's not racing vintage bikes on the Mainland, Laf Young leads a small group of motorcycle enthusiasts on an Upcountry ride. They often stop for a late-morning breakfast, sitting around an outdoor table, talking sport bikes and the ride. For them, it's an energizing endeavor as well as a social event.
I've known Laf - short for Lafayette - since he was the director of the Maui Community College media center in the 1970s. He's long since let other tech issues take precedence. Through it all, he's had a passion for motorcycles and sustainable technology.
Last Sunday, Laf and friends had just arrived when I was ready to leave. There was the usual banter about motorcycles and riding. I was walking away. "Hey, Ron," Laf called. "You should check out the wind farm they're building below Ulupalakua," he said. "Impressive."
"Laf was a pioneer," I said to the motorcyclists. "He was building wind turbines when they didn't work." Laf laughed.
In the 1970s, there was a burst of short-lived interest in alternative energy brought on by a so-called oil embargo that ran up the price of fossil fuels. Homemade wind turbines sprouted in the rural areas of the island. Primitive stuff - a propellor hooked to an automobile generator mounted on a pole in some cases. Other units appeared to have been modeled on windmills used to pump farm water on the Mainland.
Laf was responsible for the construction of Maui's first commercial-sized wind turbine. If memory serves, it was a unit imported from Holland. It was built near Maui Electric's Maalaea plant. It didn't work for long. Again according to memory, a combination of erratic winds and tower design led to the unit being jackhammered to death.
Monday, I went looking for Auwahi Wind, a $140 million project to add eight turbines to MECO's grid. That's in addition to the 20, soon to be 34, turbines twirling away at Kaheawa Wind's farm above Maalaea.
Nice ride out to Ulupalakua. Near the ranch headquarters saw stacks of utility poles. To hold up Auwahi Wind's transmission lines? As soon as I cleared the trees on the Kanaio side of the ranch, I slowed, looking downhill for the sight Laf described. Beautiful views of my favorite area of the island. No construction cranes or signs of wind towers. Keep looking.
Out near the Keone'o'io homesteads, there was a wide, dirt road carved out of a rocky pasture. By sight, I followed the road down and across. No sign of the wind farm. Turned around. Even at dead-slow, it was hard to scan the downhill slopes. Had to pay attention to the twisty road.
Nothing. Keep looking after going back through the ranch. Nothing. Laf must have better eyes. I have no problem seeing the Kaheawa turbines. Eh, it was a nice ride nonetheless.
No problem spotting the proliferation of photovoltaic panels on houses in Kula. Everyone is looking to cut the cost of their electricity. Maui homeowners can choose from any number of local companies who sell and install PV panels.
The next time you are on Kaahumanu Avenue, look for the turbines mounted on the new Science Building at UH-Maui College - short, vertical wind vanes sprouting from a field of PV panels. Easy to see.
So was an ad in The Maui News.
"Wanted," it says in big letters. "Lease agricultural land, rooftop or industrial land for PV solar farm. Reward commission up to $15,000. For requirements, visit www.SolaraEnergyLLC.com/wanted.html."
The outfit has a Makawao address. Its website says Solara is looking to lease rooftops that are 5,000 square feet or larger and ag or commercial parcels that are 2 acres or larger. It is also looking for contractors.
The company ought to look at the rock-studded land on the Kula side of Mokulele Highway near Kihei. Definitely unsuitable for sugar, pasture or houses. The area is called Keahuaiwi. That translates literally to bone pile but might be a reference to its lack of life and bounty of boulders.
Maui's no stranger to using the sun. Solar water heaters have been used for decades. Some were built by Maui Economic Opportunity crews in quonset huts down by the harbor when Joe Souki was MEO's first director, circa 1970. Wind and photovoltaic seem the best route to energy independence.
There's no need to get blown away or blinded by what you see on Maui. To quote Mr. Unnamed, "The only constant is change."
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.