Thursday, May 13, 2010

Once Called the ‘Wind Energy Capital of the World,’ Kahuku’s Still in the Game

It’s seems fitting that the community of Kahuku on Oahu’s North Shore will soon see the construction of its first new windfarm in a generation.

Wind Power, a subsidiary of First Wind, has received Public Utilities Commission approval for its power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO). Twenty-five years ago or so, HECO’s monthly “Consumer Lines” newsletter mailed with electric bills lauded Kahuku for its potential to be a wind energy leader because of its exposure to northeast trade winds.

HECO had collaborated with the U.S. Department of Energy in the construction and successful operation of the MOD-OA turbine in the hills near Kahuku a few years earlier. “Makani Huila” (Hawaiian for Wind Wheel) performed so well that HECO chief executive C. Dudley Pratt, Jr. directed the installation of one of the turbine’s blades at the company’s Ward Avenue building in Honolulu, where it still stands.

Hawaiian Electric Renewable Systems, along with HECO a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries, built a windfarm in 1985-6 with 15 600-KW Westinghouse turbines. The project overlooked the Turtle Bay resort but nevertheless had the backing of local residents and even the resort’s management, which distributed windfarm brochures to guests. New World Power Corporation, then operated by the Kuhns brothers, purchased the declining operation in 1993, but those early-generation turbines were no match for the elements, and nearly all traces of that project have been removed.

World’s Biggest Turbine

In 1987, Kahuku became the proud home of the world’s largest wind turbine – the 3,200 KW Boeing MOD-5B, the last of the federally sponsored turbines. The blades were longer than a football field, tip to tip, and the whoosh they created was truly impressive to visitors, including the late U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga, who attended the MOD-5B’s dedication. Production was lower than projected, however, and that project also was scrapped.

Kahuku Wind Power will build a dozen 2,500 KW turbines at its site and will benefit from the lessons learned from all previous projects in the Kahuku hills, as well as First Wind’s Kaheawa project above Maalaea, Maui. By all accounts, Kaheawa is a booming success, and we discussed its record with First Wind’s Noelani Kalipi on Hawaii Public Radio’s “Energy Futures” show back in September when we still had time to be the show's volunteer producer and host.

We wish Kahuku Wind Power in finally realizing the community’s potential to be one of the wind energy capitals of the world.

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