Lanai wind farm opponents take their case to lawmakers
People opposed to building a wind farm on the island of Lanai are trying to keep the pressure up to kill the project and some of them took their message to state lawmakers in Honolulu Wednesday.
Last week, the owners of Molokai Ranch ended talks with the developer that was trying to build a commercial-scale wind energy project on Molokai.
But opponents of big wind development on Lanai are still worried a large-scale project may be built on their small island
The island's previous owner David Murdoch proposed to build a field of skyscraper-sized windmills on an undeveloped stretch of land to generate electricity and sell the power to Oahu.
In his sale of the island to fellow billionaire Larry Ellison last June, Murdoch retained the rights to build the wind farm, if he got the required governmental approvals. But it's unclear if there's a drop-dead date by which Murdoch must obtain permits and financing, since terms of the private business deal are secret.
That's why people such as Lanai native Diane Preza, a kindergarten teacher have concerns. She said the area, called Keahi a Kawelo or Garden of the Gods, has important Hawaiian cultural significance.
"So it's not a wasteland. It's important to us and we care for it. And we love it like a family member," Preza said.
Preza is a government employee and many of the vocal anti-wind activists either work for the government or are retirees. They said that's because resort employees under Murdoch were pressured to put up pro-wind signs outside their homes in a show of "support" for the project.
The debate over wind has divided the island, where anti-windmill signs dot walls and fences. The island's new owner -- Ellison's Lanai Resorts -- has removed pro-wind signs from all company-owned buildings.
"We are hearing that Ellison and his people are not, they are saying that it's not a project that they are supporting. Nonetheless, if Murdoch actually has the development rights and can raise the money, it could happen. So we have not finished our fight yet," said Robin Kaye, a spokesman for the group Friends of Lanai.
They took that fight to the State Capitol Wednesday, where a delegation of more than a dozen Lanai residents opposed to the wind farm met with lawmakers like State Rep. Chris Lee (D- Kailua, Waimanalo) who chairs the State House energy committee.
Lanai high school senior Lucy Gaceta was among them.
"I don't want the wind farms to go through. I'm hoping that Ellison is for green energy and he won't be putting up these massive things that don't even produce that much energy," Gaceta said.
Kaye, a retiree and Lanai resident on and off since 1974, said "It's a danger to our cultural sites, it's a danger to our traditional Hawaiian practices. It's a danger to our environment. All of the electricity that's produced would go to Oahu. Not a single drop of that energy would stay on this island."
Lanai has just one aging power generating plant, supplemented by a solar energy farm that opened four years ago, in January of 2009.
Sheep are used to keep the grass and other foliage from growing tall and blocking the solar panels that generate about 10 percent of the island's electricity.
Ellison's people want to expand the solar farm or build a new one, something most residents support.
"We live in Hawaii and there's so much sun and I think solar is a really good idea," Preza said.
Lanai Resorts would like the explore the idea of expanding solar farms so much that they would be able to power the entire island.
The company also would like to build one or two water desalination plants.
Kurt Matsumoto, chief operating officer of Lanai Resorts, said solar and water are two initiatives where "we intend to have an impact."
"There's no real plan but I've already reached out to all the players and said if we do certain things, are you open to these ideas? So when it does come time to come to the table and make some things happen, I think we will have a very collaborative effort. Not just us and the community, but we will bring in all the affected parties," Matsumoto said.
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