Now that billionaire Larry Ellison has purchased Hawaii’s vast Lanai Island, locals are anxiously awaiting word on whether a controversial wind farm will move forward.
The term N.I.M.B.Y. has been a rallying cry for anti-wind farm sentiment in recent years – in the case of Lanai Island, however, ‘Not In My Backyard’ may be more aptly phrased ‘Not On My Private Island’. The huge 141-square mile island is home to just 3,135 residents, but plans that former owner David Murdoch had in place for a clean-energy wind farm generated fears that the turbines would spoil the view and infringe on the island’s pristine wilderness. N.O.M.P.I., said some inhabitants – there isn’t enough room on Lanai for both the wind farm, and us.
The wind farm proposal, as created by Murdoch, involved covering approximately a quarter of the island’s surface with turbines, which would supply Lanai with power and leave a surplus to sell to the neighboring island of Oahu.
Economics, more than environmental concerns, motivated the plan. Since its early days as a pineapple plantation under the Dole empire, Lanai has struggled to find economic self-sufficiency. Its latest incarnation as an elite holiday destination has been floundering since it began in the late 1980’s, and the wind farm project was viewed by Murdoch as a potential saviour.
According to a recent report in the New York Times, the island’s residents, long in conflict with Murdoch, are regarding the new owner of 98% of Lanai, high-tech entrepreneur Larry Ellison, with a cautious optimism. Local Mary Charles, who runs the small Hotel Lanai, said that the island had been in a desperate struggle, but the sale to Ellison may save their community.
Over the past five years, the island had undergone a period of austerity, with Murdoch slashing budgets and even closing the community swimming pool as a cost-saving measure. Ellison reopened the pool as one of his first moves, and has started to refurbish the island’s two Four Seasons resorts, giving some hope to some inhabitants that the island’s fortunes were changing.
According to the Times, Ellison’s associates have said it was not likely he would make any changes that would alter the island’s character, describing it as a ‘passion purchase’. There is one complication, however; the island’s former owner retained, in addition to his private residence, the rights to construct the wind farm should he gain the necessary approvals. Locals, however, have seen at least one positive sign; outside of Murdoch’s company headquarters, placards promoting the wind farm plans have vanished.
Read more about this story: New York Times