Wind Farms Powering Maui

Mike Gresham
Mike Gresham

(KHNL) - It's a sight that's hard to miss on Maui. High wind turbines line a ridge above Maalaea. It's the Kaheawa Wind Farm and it's producing renewable energy for thousands of residents.

Now there are plans for more projects like this.

"Generally we've got 25 mph of winds," said Mike Gresham, vice president of Kaheawa Wind Farm.

Each of the 20 turbines stand 180 feet tall. And at the very top; huge blades.

"When the wind passes them it forces them to turn inside of the cell which is the big box on top. You have a gearbox and a generator so that generates electricity," said Gresham.

Cables run down the length of a tower to an underground collections system. It feeds a substation connected to Maui Electric's power lines. The $70 million Kaheawa Wind Farm produces energy for 10,000 homes.

"And since we started operators we started saving the burning of 6-700 barrels of oil or fossil fuel per day," said Gresham.

Officials are already thinking of expanding the Kaheawa Wind Farm. Within two years, they'd like to add 18 more turbines, basically doubling it in size, which would produce energy for 9,000 more homes on Maui.

On the other side of Maui, Shell Oil plans to develop its first wind farm in the state. It already has wind meters up at Ulupalakua Ranch to see what nature dishes out. The total project is expected to cost more than $200 million and take 3-5 years to complete.

"As you know it's renewable energy, clean energy, so as far as the state trying to get away from its dependence on fossil fuel, it's always a good thing," said Neal Shinyama, who's with Maui Electric Co.

Experts say when the first phase of the new wind farm is completed at Ulupalakua Ranch, nearly 20% of Maui's energy could come from wind turbines.

Renewable energy helps the environment, but some peope say there's a downside. First, energy is only produced by the wind, so on a calm day, these turbines are pretty much useless. Secondly, some Maui residents say this interferes with Maui's beautiful skyline.

"Windfarms everywhere have to overcome the visual impact because they are tall, they are big machines," said Gresham.

But utility officials hope it's a sight and a way of life that the people of Maui will get used to.