Posts Tagged With: wind power

Here She Blows

There are two major factors that afford Hawaii its famously congenial climate: that big, fat temperature moderator known as the Pacific Ocean, and the trade winds. The trades blow from the northeast, though big storm systems can disrupt or even reverse that flow as we saw a week or two ago. But on a typical day the winds around the Big Island appear as they do on this screen snap from a weather app on my phone, taken earlier today:


You might expect from this image that you’d get the strongest and most constant winds at the three vertices where they whip around the edges of the island: the eastern-, northern- and southernmost points. And you’d be right. Today the winds there appear to be blowing at about 15 mph (25 kph), which is somewhat milder than usual. This worked to my advantage yesterday, as you’ll see in a moment.

You might also reason that those would be good places to build wind farms to get some renewable energy action going, and you’d be mostly right about that too. They’ve never done it at the eastern edge, an area called Pahoa that is most famously on the eastern slope of Kilauea volcano. Building a wind farm on the slopes of an active volcano is probably not the best idea, so it hasn’t happened. (That hasn’t stopped people from building homes there though, more than a few of which are currently underneath tens of meters of lava.)

But they have built wind farms at South Point, the southernmost point of the island, and at its mirror image at Upolu Point up at the very north. The South Point installation was an economic failure and was shut down in 2012, though the Mad Max-ish rusting towers, several with missing blades, stand there to this day, as you can see.38446415390_e2610fb019_hBut the Upolu installation near the town of Hawi has been operational since 2006 and generates over 10 MW of power, enough to power a few thousand homes. It has had some hiccups, including a couple of occasions when it had to be shut down when the winds were too strong.

But the winds were mild enough yesterday for me to achieve a goal I’ve sought for the past year, namely flying my drone over the windmills. So here are a few drone photos of the towers. To give you an idea of scale, each blade is about 75′ (23 m) long.

Upolu Point 0977-Edit

Upolu Point 0973

And here’s a 3-minute video flyover, with a guest appearance of the island of Maui on the horizon at about the 0:55 second mark.

You’ll also notice a small runway. Upolu Airport is a very small general aviation airport that, having little infrastructure and being in relatively remote area of the island, does not see a lot of traffic. When we lived here in the 1980’s it was a favorite place of mine to practice my touch-and-go landings, usually landing towards the northeast into the reliable trade winds.

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Oh, Kohala!

The Big Island is actually built out of five volcanos:

  • Kilauea (currently in eruption, and probably the major tourist draw on the island)
  • Mauna Loa (active, but not erupting right now)
  • Mauna Kea (dormant, fortunately for all the observatories atop it)
  • Hualalai (dormant and probably extinct for the past 200 years)
  • Kohala (extinct)

That last one — Kohala — is long extinct and basically is the entire northwest corner of the island, a huge and ancient shield volcano about 5000′ (1600 m) high that itself forms one of the island’s many distinct climate zones. It is now as much a region as a singular mountain, and worth a dedicated visit or two. So we struck out this morning to do exactly that. It’s about an hour and a half north of our house, and so we cruised up the coast, our local palm-lined streets soon giving away to the wasteland of lava and scrub that I described earlier. Here’s the view looking inland from the coast highway.


The view in the other direction is a sea of rippling black hard lava, reaching down to the sea.

Being at higher elevation, Kohala is cooler than the coast and also catches some of the trade winds blowing from the east, the result being that it supports more temperate types of vegetation: grasslands and coniferous trees. It is even cattle country, and it is a common sight to see herds of cattle grazing on the grass-covered volcanic slopes.  Those domes in this landscape photo are old volcanic cinder cones.

Kohala Pan 1

The architecture of Kohala’s few small towns reflects the history of cattle grazing and has a charming and slightly offbeat Wyoming-meets-Hawaii vibe, with a dash of Sedona, as you can see here. But cattle are definitely part of the culture: there is even a Hawaiian word for “cowboy”: paniolo.

Kohala-003The “Sedona” part is not obvious in this picture, but as you walk or drive slowly through the towns of Hawi and Waimea the “warmed-over hippie” gestalt emerges pretty quickly, as about two-thirds of the businesses are notional antique stores or one form or another of local crafts. There are many bandannas in sight. The towns are small and charming. But aside from the tropical flowers, such as the birds of paradise plants that you see above, the pine trees and rolling grasslands stand in odd conjunction to the overgrown cinder cones, and if you were blindfolded and surreptitiously transported here you might well have a very hard time guessing that you were in Hawaii. There’s not a palm tree or a coconut in sight.

Hawi with its 1500 residents is sort of the spiritual center of Kohala, the northernmost town on the Big Island. Because it sits at the northern end of the peninsula that is Kohala itself, it is a reliably windy place and thus unsurprisingly the site of what has to be the world’s most picturesquely-situated wind power farm.


You can see some cinder cones in the background . More spectacularly, the wind far overlooks the Alenuihaha Channel, which is the narrow piece of the Pacific separating the Big Island from Maui, the next island up in the chain. So here is the view from the road just above the wind farm.

Kohala Pan 2

That’s Maui sticking out of the clouds, about 1/3 of the way in from the left. You can see one of the windmills at lower right.

We made a driving loop around the peninsula, then headed back down the coast to home. But no such trip would be complete with sampling some local food, and so we stopped at a poke (pronounced “pokey”) house, poke being by itself a reason to visit Hawaii. It is marinated sushi, usually ahi though other fish are used as well, seasoned in various ways such as with sesame, or soy, or hot sauce. You generally want to get a bowl of it over rice with a side of sesame seaweed salad, served over rice in a downtrodden-looking place like this one. If you have never tried this, do so. You can thank me later.Kohala-013



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