Kahuku wind farm safety called into question

KHON - February 27, 2013
Brianne Randle

It's been seven months since a fire knocked the Kahuku wind farm offline.

Work is underway to rebuild, but some want a second look to see if the project is even safe.

Kahuku's First Wind project barely got off the ground before it was hit with a blow.

The turbines spent seven months spinning and now seven months just sitting.

A fire in the battery storage facility knocked the system offline in August.

"It wasn't just sulfuric acid batteries, it was lead but the main concern, main contaminate of concern was of lead," said Elizabeth Galvez, Health Department, Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office.

The blaze was so intense, it took days before fire crews were safely able to enter the building.

It was one of the biggest cases the Department of Health's Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office has ever had.

But they left the air, water, and soil sampling in the hands of First Wind.

"They prepared a work-plan with our oversight and hired a consultant to do the sampling," said Galvez.

The sampling came back clean.

"The results indicated that everything is within normal backgrounds," she Galvez.

Some who live in the area want a second look.

"However we feel the DOH should have been the person to contact those different agencies and back charge the developer, rather than the developer choosing his own to go and check. That's like the fox watching the chicken house," said Kent Fonoimoana, Kahuku Neighborhood Board.

Galvez says requiring First Wind to do the work is standard protocol.

Lawmakers aren't sure that should be the case.

"We are looking at some legislation, possibly a resolution that would require an outside a third party to take a look at cause and again the main thing is public safety and prevent these kinds of things from happening again," said Sen. Mike Gabbard (D), Energy Committee Chair.

While the warehouse is gone, the windmills are designed to last 20 years.

As long they are there, First Wind will shell out $45,000 a year to local groups.

Residents wants to make sure that Kahuku gets its fair share.

"We've given to several groups including Kokua Foundation, Kahuku High School, Kahuku 2000 which works on flood mitigation, Kahuku Medical Center and many other groups in the community," said Wren Wescoatt, First Wind.

First Wind is almost done with its cleanup and is beginning to rebuild, the hope is to be back up and running by December.