First Wind, an independent U.S.-based renewable energy company, has begun work on two areas in the West Maui hills that will preserve the population of threatened or endangered seabirds on the island and potentially encourage their population growth. Kahu Alika, long-time minister of Keawala`i Congregational Church in Makena on Maui, held a traditional Hawaiian blessing at the site yesterday afternoon.
The Makamaka`ole seabird mitigation project is part of an extensive program undertaken by the company to provide conservation benefits to mitigate potential impacts of the Kaheawa Wind projects several miles away. As part of the company’s innovative Habitat Conservation Plan for its two Kaheawa Wind projects on Maui, First Wind is constructing two fenced enclosures to protect the federally endangered Hawaiian Petrel and threatened Newell’s Shearwater, two native Hawaiian seabirds. The enclosures are located about ten miles west of Wailuku.
Once completed, the enclosures will each encompass between four and five acres and will feature barriers intended to keep non-native predators, such as rats, mongoose, and cats, out of the habitat. In addition, each enclosure will contain specific features designed to attract shearwaters and petrels to nest, including artificial burrows, custom decoys and a sound system that broadcasts shearwater and petrel calls.
“We are hopeful this program will help promote the recovery of these rare native species in West Maui,” said Dave Cowan, First Wind’s vice president for environmental affairs. “This is a unique program the like of which has never been done before in the wind industry. We’re proud to have worked with outstanding local and international partners to put in place a program that we hope will provide real benefits for these species for years to come.”
The plan was designed in conjunction with a number of research experts who have had success designing and implementing similar bird conservation areas elsewhere. First Wind worked with EcoWorks, a New Zealand-based environmental consultant, SWCA Environmental Consultants based in Honolulu, the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Hawaii Natural Areas Reserve System, the New South Wales Deparent of Environment and Climate Change, which has implemented similar programs to protect species there, David Ainley, an internationally recognized seabird expert and Feral Animal Removal Experts LLC .
In addition, First Wind has worked closely with local communities, including the Waihe`e Community Association, to inform them of the project and ask for their support. Local community residents and supporters were on hand today during the site blessing.
As part of the first Kaheawa Wind project that achieved commercial operations in 2006, First Wind implemented the first-ever Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for a utility-scale wind project. In addition to the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, the HCP was developed to ensure a long-term net conservation benefit is provided for three state and federally listed threatened and endangered bird species and the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat, which could be affected by the project. For the second phase of Kaheawa Wind, First Wind expanded its conservation initiatives and developed a second HCP to provide additional conservation benefits for the same four species, and extended the minimum duration of its commient to stewardship by an additional five years.
The enclosures being put in place now are an important part of the HCP effort, and will be kept in place indefinitely. The birds will be carefully monitored by the project biologists for at least the next 20 years using a variety of methods including motion-sensor cameras. Efforts will be undertaken to trap and remove non-native predators from the enclosures over the coming months
The first Kaheawa Wind project went online in 2006, and the second phase began operations in July 2012. Combined, if they were to operate without being curtailed, they could supply enough electricity to power about 20 percent of Maui’s total electricity needs. A traditional fossil-fueled facility in Hawaii producing an equivalent amount of electric energy would consume about 380,000 barrels of oil per year. The power produced by phases of the Kaheawa Wind project, if they were not curtailed, would be the equivalent of decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by over 156,000 metric tons annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Emissions and Generation Resource Integrated Database (E-GRID).