Will Hurricanes Iselle and Julio Destroy Hawaii’s Wind Farms?

Credit: The Weather Channel

Hawaii is preparing for a hurricane double-hitter over the next several days. Hurricane Iselle, which is due to make landfall on Thursday, is followed closely by Hurricane Julio, which may (or may not) hit the big island this weekend. What threat do these storms pose to Hawaii’s wind farms?

One of Hawaii’s first wind farms was built in the 1980s. Since then, several more modern wind farms have been constructed. Hawaii has over 200 megawatts of wind energy capacity installed, and power about 4% of the state’s needs. Individual wind farms achieving annual capacity factors of 45-65%. Interestingly, Hawaii’s statistics on wind energy are held by the state’s department of tourism – perhaps a testament to wind farm tourist appeal (we’ve documented several instances of turbine tourism previously).

If Hurricanes Iselle and Julio make landfall, several wind farms will assuredly be in the storms’ paths. But, as we’ve documented with Hurricane Sandy (2012) and Hurricane Irene (2011), hurricanes rarely pose major threats to modern wind turbines. With both of those storms, no damage was reported for any wind farm on the east coast. 

Both Sandy and Irene struck the east coast as roughly Category 1 hurricanes with wind speeds of around 74-95 miles per hour. Hurricanes Iselle and Julio, if they strike Hawaii, are also expected to make landfall as Category 1 storms, or less. Generally, wind turbines are expected to withstand hurricanes, up to a high Category 3 storm (111-129 mph). Turbines use brake systems, blade feathering, active yaw systems, heavy monopoles and strong foundations to protect themselves against mother nature. Indeed, wind farm operators in Hawaii are already preparing for the storms. For more information on how turbines protect themselves, check out our previous post on the subject.

All of Hawaii’s energy resources will be at risk from these storms, and wind turbines are no exception. Even if wind turbines are damaged or destroyed in these storms, such accidents will not be catastrophic for the island. Surprisingly, Hawaii still gets a substantial amount of its electricity (about 70%) from oil-based power stations. Those power plants rely on constant refueling by barges (predominately from Saudi Arabia and Russia), and those barges require anchorage. At best, hurricanes wreak havoc on the shipping industry. At worst, hurricanes can destroy energy infrastructure and cause massive economic and environmental damage. Wind energy represents a least-risk, resilient energy resource compared to some alternatives.

Hurricanes Iselle and Julio are good reminders that we need to be prepared for dangerous weather. The wind farms on Hawaii should be able to handle these storms without a problem. As with anything, let’s hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Stay tuned for a post-storm(s) update.

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