Proposal to use natural resources on Lanai has residents talking

Published: Nov. 19, 2008 at 7:34 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 19, 2008 at 7:47 PM HST
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Chris Lovvorn
Chris Lovvorn
Robbie Alm
Robbie Alm
Butch Gima
Butch Gima

By Howard Dashefsky - bio | email

LANAI (KHNL) - Calling it "historical and transformational," Governor Linda Lingle recently announced plans to help fast track the state's renewable energy goals.

As part of the agreement, Hawaii Electric will add more than a thousand megawatts of power.

A big chunk of which could be coming from the small island of Lanai. With a population of just 3,000 people, Lanai is an island founded on pineapple, and grounded in it's desire to maintain it's rural feel.

But over this horizon, on the northeastern flank of the island, talk of harnessing a valuable resource is creating a lot of buzz in this normally peaceful place.

"As a state we have a huge need for imported oil," said Chris Lovvorn of Castle & Cooke.  "We have the resource here, the demand is there, so in an effort to meet Hawaii's demand we want to do and tap into the resource here the renewable resource and collect that power and be able to transmit it to Oahu."

For the past year Castle & Cooke, the company that owns 98 percent of Lanai, has monitored the winds that blow across this section of the island.

The company hopes to build a 400 megawatt windward.

Roughly 125 windmills like the ones churning right now on the hillside above Maalaea, Maui, spread over more than 10,000 acres of land.

HECO says it plans to build an undersea cable connecting the valley isle, Molokai, and Lanai into one electrical grid.

"Because we don't drive long distances, we don't home heat, air conditioning is still not the norm, we have huge opportunities to really be able to change the oil equation," said Robbie Alm, HECO Executive Vice President.

With tourism and luxury home development on the decline, Castle & Cooke says it needs to look for alternative sources of income on Lanai, and it believes alternative energy is the answer.

The company also says the project would provide not only dozens of skilled jobs, but numerous benefits to the people of Lanai.

"With a billion dollar project putting that into the ground out here, we would expect real property taxes that would go to the county which then are turned around and brought back to the island in terms of jobs for teachers, firemen, medical care, roads, those kinds of things," said Lovvorn.

But many, who's families have lived here for generations, don't believe it.

And fear the loss of fertile hunting and fishing grounds. And a way of life.

"And a lot of people especially now with unemployment being such a big issue here.  The deer they harvest is very important to people, and mouflan and who fish," said Alm.  "The company has been saying no it will not except temporarily for construction, they will not stop access to hunting. But it's company land, there's a short term lease with DLNR, so it's very possible they might say no you can't hunt there anymore."

I don't think they've been up front with the community with all the indirect impacts it will have for our residents," said Lanai resident Butch Gima.

We'll hear more from Lanai residents who say creating a sustainable island is great, but have one simple question, "what's in it for us?"