Kauai News

KIUC Hydroelectric Project for West Kaua‘i Still in Planning Phases

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Amanda Kurth

For nearly a decade, The Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, or KIUC, has worked to pioneer a hybridized solar energy and hydroelectric system anticipated to serve the island’s energy needs for centuries to come.

One of those developments is the West Kaua‘i Energy Project, or WKEP, a hydroelectric project that will be situated northwest of Waimea and Kekaha. KIUC officials say it will be the first of its kind in the world. While still in the planning phases, the co-op is working with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to ensure affordable homestead leases for residential, agricultural, or pastoral purposes, and support for homesteading activities, including the expansion of agricultural lands.

Courtesy of KIUC

Historically, Kaua‘i has had some of the highest electric rates in the nation. However, with the WKEP’s renewable energy potential, KIUC’s Communications Manager, Beth Tokioka, agreed this project will cover 25% of Kaua‘i’s electricity needs, gradually cutting electric rates for customers.

The current design of the energy project would be capable of delivering 240-megawatt hours of stored energy daily and allow KIUC to replace fossil-fuel generation with renewable power throughout the evening. The large storage capacity also allows KIUC to use this electricity over a period of days in times of emergency or extended periods with no sunlight.

KIUC has been in discussions with the community and state representatives about the project for several years. According to the co-op’s 2017 beneficiary consultation, the hydroelectric project will benefit DHHL and its beneficiaries by bringing water to west Kaua‘i Trust lands. The water will service existing pastoral lots and allow the future development of new homestead lots.

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DHHL spokesperson Cedric Duarte said he knows there were community talk-story sessions held by KIUC regarding the project in 2021.

“Communication with beneficiaries slowed during the pandemic but since COVID restrictions have reopened we have stayed in touch with our beneficiaries on this effort and how the proposed project will benefit them and future homesteading opportunities,” Duarte stated to Kaua‘i Now in an email.

KIUC, which operates as a nonprofit, was formed in 2002 after Citizens Utilities announced its intentions to divest from the electric utility business. The co-op is one of the country’s newest electric companies that ushered in an era of renewables with the Applied Energy Services Corporation, or AES, an energy consulting company formed in 1980.

Although multiple attempts to contact AES failed, their website states, “AES is deeply rooted in local culture and customs. We invest in our communities in a way that makes the best sense for them. We learn, grow, expand, and share the experiences we have to bring innovation from one market to another, changing the future of energy, together.”

“With the availability of solar and making it more accessible, KIUC would pay AES $8.9 million per year for the hydropower component, and a fixed $71.60 per megawatt-hour from the solar component, coming out to an annual average of $150 per megawatt-hour,” said Tokioka.

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KIUC estimates a savings of $157 million to $172 million for itself and its customers from not using diesel fuel.

Tokioka confirmed to Kaua‘i Now that last year’s cost projections for WKEP remain the same.

When Kaua‘i Now asked westside residents whether the partnership between the WKEP and AES will benefit the community in any way, some were quick to respond.

“The benefits are huge: clean energy and a lake on the westside for the ducks and the shorebirds,” said Gordon LaBedz, a retired family doctor and conservationist who works intimately with the Kaua‘i Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. “However, the Surfrider Foundation neither supports nor opposes the project. The problems are also dramatic: drying up streams that feed the already depleted Waimea River and the stream (ditch) system of the west side.”

LaBedz said the westside project worries him because KIUC has contracted it out to AES, adding, the co-op needs to build up their battery system and get off of oil.

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“KIUC burned forests for electricity and also burns petroleum,” continued LaBedz, noting, “…they have quite a bit of non-renewable polluting energy that can stabilize their electric grid.”

Despite his concerns, LaBedz said KIUC has done an excellent job in working to engage the community.

Kaua‘i County has already reached the state’s renewable benchmark for 2040, nearly two decades ahead of KIUC’s Board of Directors’ strategic goal, and for the past two months, the cooperative has had the lowest electricity rates in the state of Hawai‘i for the first time since 2002.

And while Kauai’s high renewable percentages indicate what impacts soaring oil prices have had on rates for its members, KIUC’s goal is to have WKEP operational by the end of 2025.

KIUC will utilize an existing plantation ditch and rehabilitate three reservoirs from Kōkeʻe to Mānā to Puʻu Lua reservoir, storing and releasing to a powerhouse at Puʻu ʻŌpae reservoir.

“For many projects, there are concerns about responsible use of the state’s water resources,” Tokioka said, adding, “For this project, that was mediated with a number of parties and culminated in the Waimea Mediation Agreement, which outlines how much water can be diverted for WKEP and for what purpose.”

To learn more about the WKEP, installing or updating a solar/PV system, or curtailment for a new or existing project, visit the KIUC website at kiuc.coop, or call 808-246-4300.

WKEP-ProjectFacilitiesDiagram by Tiffany De Masters on Scribd

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