Last week Sempra U.S. Gas & Power and BP Wind Energy launched a 21 megawatt (MW) wind power facility on the island of Maui. The Auwahi Wind Farm off of Maui’s southern coast opened on December 27, nine months after ground broke on the project within the Ulupalakua Ranch.
According to Sempra, the wind farm will generate enough electricity to power 10,000 homes. Leaders including then-Hawaii Lt. Gov. (now U.S. Senator) Brian Shatz touted the eight-turbine wind farm as another step towards Hawaii’s goal of scoring 40 percent of its power from clean energy sources by 2030. While the 50th state has attracted plenty of attention over its ambitious solar energy program, wind power has also been an important cog in Hawaii’s renewable energy agenda.
Despite the fickle economy of the past decade, Maui’s tourism-based economy has continued to surge while concerns over the environment dogs large projects such as Auwahi. Traffic was also an issue, so the project’s managers took several steps to minimize construction traffic. Larger turbines reduced the total count from the original 15 to eight to reduce the overall transport needed to build the site. Sempra and BP set the traffic schedule to avoid the transport of materials during peak times. The 180 workers assigned to the site also carpooled a minimum 25 percent of the time to keep more cars and trucks off local roads.
Power from the Auwahi Wind Farm will be sold to Maui Electric Company (MECO) under a 20 year contract. Advocates of clean energy may want to mute their praise of Auwahi as a “green jobs” generator; the wind farm at most will employ four or five employees. But what is encouraging about Auwahi is the battery capacity onsite: a 10 MW battery will have the ability to store as much as 4.4 megawatt hours of electricity.
So, despite the constant threat of the “fiscal cliff,” Hawaii’s volatile tourist industry and often vehement criticism of wind power, this form of energy is not going away anytime soon. Fossil fuels will only continue their price trajectory upward, so look for Hawaii, as well as other states, to continue to put more wind power farms on the drawing board.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
Image credit: Sempra