There has been a backlash against industrial wind turbines, with Kahuku residents leading the charge, sounding the alarm about the problems the 40-story towers built there have created for them and their children – pulsing noises, flickering shadows and what they say are sleep disturbances, depression and new neurological conditions.
In 2015, the legislature mandated the state to phase out fossil fuels by 2045 and shift to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. At first, Hawaiians eagerly embraced wind turbines, eager to do their part to fight global warming and climate change. But once built, many people who live near wind turbines on the North Shore began to have doubts.
Reports of the negative ways wind turbines have already affected people, especially in Kahuku, are in turn influencing the politicians who represent them, and new rules are being drafted that will change where they can settle.
Early September, amid debate over a broader land use bill, Honolulu City Council President Tommy Waters conducted a mock poll asking members how far wind turbines should be located from homes, stores and schools. Seven of the council members said they thought wind turbines should be located at least 1.25 miles from people, while only two – Brandon Elefante and Calvin Say – voted for 1 mile distance.
To meeting of the zoning and urban planning committee on August 25, Elefante, chairman of the committee, was the only council member present to vote for the 1-mile setback, saying he wanted to ensure nothing was done that would prevent the expansion of renewable energy. He quickly added, however, that he was “open to further discussions.”
The discussion portends a big change from the current zoning, which only calls for a 1-to-1 setback on turbines. Under current law, a 600-foot-tall turbine could be placed just 600 feet from the nearest house, or about two football fields away. Under the proposed 1.25 mile rule, the space between a wind tower and a house should be 6,600 feet, or more than 10 times as far.
The city council’s consensus on the extended setbacks comes after more than a year of deliberations. They began amid a growing perception that Kahuku had been badly damaged by the government’s decision to allow developer AES Corp. based in Virginia to build a second set of wind turbines in a small rural community that already had 12. Now Kahuku has 20.
Though there is no evidence that wind turbines cause medical problems or health problems, North Shore residents have flooded city officials with testimonies of what they described as damage to their mental and physical well-being since the wind turbines began operating. Melissa Kaonohi-Camil, teacher in Kahuku, told the council her son is now suffering from seizures which they believe were triggered by the shadowy flickers of the turbines. Kahuku’s Saleia Tuia began crying on September 7 as she told council members she believed “her health and safety were at risk every day” since the wind turbines arrived.
The Kahuku Community Association “understands the need for clean energy as our communities experience the devastating effects of extreme weather events due to climate change,” wrote Sunny Unga, president of the group. “However, we also need to strike a balance and put regulations in place to ensure that renewable energy projects do not come at the expense of the health, safety and quality of life of host communities.”
With all of this in mind, Council Member Heidi Tsuenyoshi, who represents Kahuku and the North Shore, sponsored a bill last year to demand a 5-mile setback on wind turbines, which eventually led to a political compromise of 1.25 miles that many clean energy groups found acceptable. The change would not help Kahuku but would apply to future projects.
“I really want to take every opportunity I can to congratulate Kahuku for being able to be part of the conversation to make sure no other community suffers the same fate as having these huge industrial turbines next to their schools. .and residences,” she said during a planning committee meeting August 25.
Where to place wind turbines has also become increasingly controversial elsewhere on Oahu.
“It’s a tough subject on a 600-square-mile island with nearly a million people and a legal mandate to phase out fossil fuels,” Hawaiian Electric spokesman Jim Kelly said in an email. -mail.
Hawaiian Electric, however, does not dispute the board’s majority position on setbacks.
“We heard the concerns expressed by residents and never objected to the 1.25 mile setback or the 1 mile setback,” Kelly said.
The State Energy Office, meanwhile, supports a “no less than a mile” rollback of homes and structures, according to Scott Glenn, Hawaii’s chief energy officer, in council testimony in February. Glenn said a larger pushback was needed “to protect against various concerns raised by Hawaii residents and communities.”
There are no wind turbine proposals under consideration in the state, said Claudia Rapkoch, spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Energy Office. But she said more are coming and they will likely be located on the west side of the island, which has the open ground where they can be located.
“Wind is an important part of Oahu’s future energy mix,” she said.
Recent events have underscored the role wind turbines could play in maintaining a stable power grid, and government actions have ruled out other options.
End of August, the closed state its last coal-fired power plant, which provided 10% of Oahu’s electricity, despite last minute concerns on the global instability caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and high oil prices. For years, the skeptics had wondered Although closing it would be a good idea, the will to take ambitious measures to combat greenhouse gases and climate change prevailed. The The legislator confirmed this decision in 2020.
In August, High Electric Hawaiian electricity prices on Oahu by 7%, blaming the shutdown of the coal plant.
The plant shutdown continued even as the state absorbed news that a major solar farm developer, Longroad Energy, was pulling the plug on a pair of renewable energy projects in Maui and Oahu, saying supply chain issues and rising equipment costs made the projects too risky.
Wind energy is growing across the country. There are now more than 72,000 wind turbines in the United States, all built since 1980, according to the US Wind Turbine Database, overseen by the US Geological Survey. Most on the mainland are located in places with wide open spaces, such as Texas, Kansas or Oklahoma, growing on windswept plains away from population centers.
More are on the way everywhere because of the Liberal tax breaks that have been given to energy development companies, both wind and solar, under the Inflation Reduction Act, championed by US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. The measure aims to replace fossil fuels, in time, by giving tax credits to alternative energy developers to help offset unreliable profits and intermittent energy flows. Schatz told Civil Beat that climate change legislation was “10 times bigger than anything we’ve ever done before” and would also be an economic boon to Hawaii.
This should eventually spur more alternative energy projects in Hawaii, which will bring more wind turbines.
When they arrived in Hawaii a decade ago, the wind turbines were initially well received, but locals were shocked by their enormous size and disturbed to learn that they posed life-threatening dangers to the environment. endangered wildlife, especially the opeapea bat on the North Shore. But opposition hardened when the big towers came to Kahuku three years ago.
Kahuku, best known for its shrimp trucks, is now surrounded by towering wind turbines which stand 568 feet tall, their arms matching the wingspan of an airliner. Residents vehemently protested their placement in 2019 and hundreds were arrested for attempting to block the entry of construction equipment to development sites.
It happened during the administration of former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. At the time, the protests were shut down by the Honolulu Police Department. But once the towers were erected, many government officials who went to take a look came back convinced that a mistake had been made.
Rapkoch of the state energy office said she gained a new appreciation for what Kahuku residents were experiencing after traveling there and seeing it for herself. She also helped other people to visit. She said it was important that future development of wind energy be done with greater attention to the impact on people.
“If you get the chance to go out and watch it, you’ll understand why they care about it,” she said. “And as much as I hate the word trade-off, we need to look at trade-offs and figure out how we can do these things that minimize impacts for the greater benefit of all, and it’s not to minimize impacts. They are real.”
Civil Beat’s climate change coverage is supported by the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Environmental Funders Group, the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Marisla Fund, and the Frost Family Foundation.