Wind Farm Controversy

Locals debate the construction of the Kawailoa wind farm on the North Shore

When finished, the Kawailoa wind farm on the North Shore will become the largest in the state. Photo: First Wind

A wind farm development in the hills that overlook the North Shore is being met with disapproval from some North Shore residents. When completed in November, the Kawailoa wind farm, which will contain 30 turbines and stretch across the North Shore, will be the biggest wind farm in the state. Proponents to the development argue that the farm will provide power for 14,500 homes and up to five to 10 percent of the island’s power, while avoiding the burning of 300,000 barrels of oil annually.

But for surfers like North Shore resident Kevin Turner, the development is seen as offensive. Turner believes the 30 turbines that overlook parts of Haleiwa, Waialua, and Waimea Bay will become an eyesore to North Shore residents and visitors.

“I’m not anti-sustainable energy at all, I just think that with all of the cultural heritage of the valley, they could have put them somewhere else,” said Turner. “There’s a lot of cultural significance to the to the area and I’m not the only one who feels that way…these gigantic wind turbines must come down and be moved to viable locations that won’t affect Waimea, a truly priceless and culturally sensitive site.” Turner also believes that the spinning blades of the turbine could cause surfers at Waimea to become disoriented, making a potentially lethal wave even more dangerous.

The land, which was leased by Kamehameha Schools to Boston-based company First Wind, is only a piece of a larger project meant to rejuvenate the land once home to the Waialua Sugar Plantation.

According to Sean Moody, who calls Waialua home and has built a career as a professional surfer on the North Shore, the turbines may not appeal to everyone, but they’re crucial to Hawaii becoming energy independent.

The new turbines overlooking Waimea have been met with controversy by some North Shore residents. Photo: John Bain

“I’ll be up front and say that I’m by no means an expert on the Kawailoa wind farm, so I’m only speaking as a North Shore surfer and resident,” says Moody. “That being said, I can see how some people view the turbines as an eyesore. But I also understand Hawaii’s need to develop sustainable forms of energy. I also hope that when the project is completed, it’s done in a way that’s safe and as non intrusive to the environment as possible.”

Some critics of the development point to the checkered safety record of the smaller, nearby Kahuku wind farm. Since becoming fully operational 18 months ago, the wind farm has caught fire three times, believed to be the result of a faulty battery-storage system. During the most recent fire, which occurred on August 3, firefighters opted not to enter the building for seven hours after the start of the fire out of concerns over toxicity due to an estimated 12,000 burning batteries.

It should be noted that unlike the Kahuku wind farm, the Kawailoa development will not be using a battery storage system.

Mike Lyons, head of the North Shore Neighborhood Board, says that the wind turbines may not mesh with the area’s natural beauty, but they’re needed to power the growth of the North Shore.

“I understand the need of the turbines and agree that the North Shore needs the power,” says Lyons. “That being said, I was a little surprised to see the size of the turbines in person. But the North Shore is growing fast. We’re practically bursting at the seams and the big question is: ‘How do we blend development with growth, while still remaining rural?’”

The push for new wind farms and other forms energy developments is driven by a Hawaiian law mandating that 70 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy, with 40 percent provided locally by the year 2030.