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Maui's Wind Farm

Article by Chatten Hayes

Ancient Hawaiians harnessed wind for voyaging, but modern islanders can benefit from Maui's breezes right at home, since the state of Hawaii's largest wind farm came online in June, 2006. Kaheawa Wind Power consists of twenty 1.5 megawatt turbines installed on the West Maui Mountains, at elevations from 2,000 feet to 3,200 feet.

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It's a little startling to see development on the slopes above Maalaea, but the wind farm is meeting about nine percent of Maui's power needs, enough to serve an estimated 11,000 island homes.

That's a big contribution, and the towers are something of a metaphor: they're big too. Real big. Each one is 180 feet tall and topped with a rotor assembly equipped with three vanes, each 112 feet long, and the wind must blow at least eight miles an hour to move them. The power generated is fed into Maui Electric Company's grid.

Most of Maui's power comes from burning something. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company creates about 8-12 megawatts by burning bagasse, a by-product of sugar cane milling. MECO generates most of the island's electricity, about 160 megawatts, burning fossil fuels. Kaheawa contributes 30 megawatts of renewable energy.

"The project is performing just as we anticipated it would, it has saved about 600 to 700 barrels of fuel per day on an annualized basis," says Mike Gresham, Vice President of UPC Hawaii Wind Partners.

The logic of the towers' color is easy to understand. The giants might be blue, because they poke into the sky, or maybe green to blend in with mountain vegetation, but the Federal Aviation Administration wanted a light color for visibility in Maui's busy air corridor.

The color helps other island flyers too. Nene geese, Newell's Shearwaters, Hawaiian Petrls, and Hoary bats can avoid turbine trouble since the wind farm is easy to see. Kaheawa Wind Power is the first wind farm in the United States to complete a Habitat Conservation Plan for species protection.

In addition to the project's eco-friendly attitude above, local community groups planted about 7500 native seedlings under the towers this year, further aiding island residents – non-human ones.

"I believe that the vast majority of the Maui community thinks that it's a community asset," Gresham says.

  find more by Chatten Hayes