Harnessing Hawaii’s Trade Winds

Arita-Poulson adds a sustainable building to a wind-farm project

Project

Location Haleiwa, HI
Size 8,349 ft²
Completed 2012
Program Operations, management, equipment storage, biological monitoring

Team

General Contractor Arita-Poulson General Contracting
Developer Kamehameha Schools
Architect Media5 Architecture
Civil Engineer Hida Okamoto & Associates
Structural Engineer Allison-Ide Structural Engineers
Mechanical Engineer Prepose Engineering Systems
Electrical Engineer KCL Engineering

REMOTE

To build the Kawailoa Wind Project’s Operations and Maintenance building on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii, Arita-Poulson General Contracting traversed a two-mile stretch of gravel road. This included hauling in a 50-ton crane and self-contained fire systems and storage tanks—all weighty matters necessary for the construction of a wind farm’s command center. These same gravel paths helped carry even larger wind turbine components: 53-meter-long blade assemblies at 22 tons each, the nacelles (gearbox and generator) at 90.4 tons, and towers that weigh 175 tons.

With 34 turbines producing 51 megawatts of power, this is the largest wind project in Hawaii to date. Since opening in late 2012, the Kawailoa project alone generates enough energy to meet roughly 10 percent of the electrical need for the entire island of Oahu, reducing the annual consumption of imported oil by 300,000 barrels.

It is the 80-meter tall turbines endlessly rotating on Pacific trade winds that get all the attention. But every wind farm needs a farmhouse, so to speak—an Operations and Management (O&M) building that houses the people and equipment that keep it running on a 24/7/365 basis. The challenge in constructing Kawailoa’s O&M building was its remote location. Because the wind farm, like most, is sited far from populated areas where wind is most plentiful, the Kawailoa project is a lone inhabitant within the least populated part of Oahu, five miles inland from the famous beachside town of Haleiwa.

“The wind farm is on a flat area within very hilly terrain,” says Tom Noble, the project manager with Arita-Poulson. “It’s where the wind is, with no other structures to block it.” Noble clarifies that the biggest problem was not the gravel road or physical site but the amount of tourist traffic on the existing one-lane highway leading to that gravel access road. And, in an area widely revered for its natural landscape, some community members voiced concerns about the wind farm. As the contractor working for Boston-based First Wind, which operates the facility and then sells the power to Hawaiian Electric Company through a power-purchase agreement, Arita-Poulson remained respectful of aloha aina, or “love of the land,” and was sensitive to the area throughout the build.

RESOURCE

Hawaii is appropriately described as a paradise, often spoken about as one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But its remoteness and longstanding need to import energy ranks the state as number one in another regard: Hawaii has the highest electricity rates in America. Residents of Oahu pay approximately 35 cents per kilowatt-hour, and on the Island of Hawaii, that rate can be as high as 45 cents, whereas the price ranges from 7 to 18 cents per kilowatt-hour in the other 49 states. Beginning a decade ago, the state incentivized all forms of wind and solar energy generation and the construction of energy-efficient buildings to reduce demand.

Naturally, incentives to build sustainable structures were applicable for the wind farm’s O&M facility. Arita-Poulson has been building green structures since 2008, long enough to understand the challenges to achieving LEED Silver with this facility. Noble explains sustainability goals impose a bigger challenge to meeting project budgets in Hawaii, given requirements for such things as local materials sourcing. But the company had the support of the Kamehameha Schools, which leases the property to First Wind and is part of a long-held family trust (the Bishop Estate, portrayed loosely in the 2011 film The Descendants).

The trust has dedicated the large tract of wind-farm land and foundation money to educational, agricultural, and sustainability causes. Endeavors include a sustainability teaching institute, a historic fishpond restoration, an archaeology school, the modernization of an agricultural water system, and research on solar and hydroelectric power, in addition to the Kawailoa wind farm. Kamehameha Schools sought input from nearby residents before embarking on the project. Although some people in the community opposed the development largely for aesthetic and historical reasons, most Hawaiians appreciate more renewable energy. “Hawaii has one of the highest costs of living in the US,” Noble says. “Anything that can lower that is a good thing.”

Green

Certification LEED Silver
Materials Sheet metal roof and wall panels, recycled steel, FSC-certified wood, no-VOC paints and adhesives
Energy Energy-efficient HVAC system
Water Low-flow and efficient fixtures
Insulation Dual-glazed windows, recycled insulation and drywall

REDUCTION

The O&M building itself is not much to look at, but it serves as the working base for the 10 or so people occupied there on a regular basis. They include engineers, maintenance workers, and a biologist, who is tasked with studying and mitigating the impact of the facility on the local ecosystem. It is a single-story building, just more than 22 feet tall with a 7,000-square-foot base plus an additional 1,349-square-foot storage area on the roof.

Arita-Poulson used recycled steel, energy-efficient mechanical systems, water-efficient fixtures, recycled insulation and drywall, FSC-certified wood, and no-VOC paints and adhesives during construction of the facility. The building draws its electricity from the Oahu grid, but water for the building’s operations has to be trucked in, so the team chose to lessen that load with water-conservation measures.

It makes sense for a wind farm building to be sustainable from a public relations standpoint, but it’s also a very practical matter in Hawaii, where tax credits can be achieved with LEED certifications. Utility companies on the islands are on track to source at least 40 percent of islanders’ current energy needs from renewables by 2030 as consumption concurrently drops by 30 percent, reducing net fossil fuel consumption by a full 70 percent. Although solar has obvious advantages in this tropical state, particularly to homeowners who can benefit from net-metering programs, wind power is the renewable source that has significant commercial-scale potential in Hawaii.

Ambitious plans include establishing 200 more turbines on the windier Lanai and Molokai islands that will power Honolulu and other cities via an underwater cable system. Natives are not finished debating whether wind, traditionally revered as a god in Hawaiian culture, should be harnessed for environmental and financial well-being, but few quibble over the wisdom of energy-efficient buildings—attractive or not, seen and unseen.