No cause, no answers 7 months after Kahuku wind farm fire

KHON - February 26, 2013
By: 
Brianne Randle

It was a first of it's kind technology - that went up in smoke.

Seven months after they started spinning, the Kahuku wind mills stopped because of a fire.

The fact that they're sitting idle is having an ripple effect that reaches your electric bill.

For seven months they were spinning in the wind.

"First seven months of operation it put about 52k megawatts of energy into the system," said Hawaiian Electric Company spokesperson Darren Pai.

A productive project - capable of powering 7,800 homes.

But these last seven months have been a different story.

Since August, the 12 turbines at Kahuku are at a standstill after a fire inside the facility's battery storage system shut the wind farm down.

Turns out it was the third blaze to break-out inside the building.

"And those we did an extensive investigation and determined the cause of those that was related to the capacitors in the converters," said Wren Wescoatt of First Wind. "We took several steps to remedy that and the new investigation looked into that as one of the possibilities but hasn't yet determined what the cause of the final fire was."

Sen. Gabbard who chairs the Committee on Energy says - no cause is no good.

"I'm a little surprised they haven't found out the cause of the fire, we're still waiting to get results of the investigation, because I think that's a key part of it," said Senator Mike Gabbard (D).

The battery-storage technology was the first of its kind to regulate the flow of power when trade winds aren't blowing.

A system First Wind may decide to ditch.

"We've been working with HECO to remove the battery building, to re-build the control equipment and to get back online and producing as soon as possible," said Wescoatt.

In operation the wind farm was a win-win. HECO saw oil savings to the tune of $11 million and First Wind was working its way to meeting annual mega-watt goals.

Now HECO is back to buying up barrels of oil, and passing that cost onto customers, while First Wind is facing financial setbacks.

"They only get paid for the energy that's actually produced and fed into the grid, so when the wind farm is not in operation first wind does not get paid," said Pai.

And there's a potential for much worse under a 20-year contract First Wind could face sanctions if the project doesn't get going again.

"There is a possibility that the contract could be terminated somewhere down the road , but our focus in on first wind to get it back in operation," shared Pai.