I would like to say mahalo to the KIUC members who attended our Special Meeting of the Members on June 4, as well as those who have continued to stay engaged in the issue of hydropower and renewable energy on Kaua‘i. Throughout the course of our community discussions there have been some questions and concerns that continue to arise so I’d like to address those here.
Why Free Flow Power? KIUC, along with all of the other regulated electrical utilities in the state, are required by the Public Utilities Commission to find and use the most cost-effective and dependable sources of electricity. FFP principals have more than 35 years of experience developing and managing small hydropower projects. With in-house expertise in hydropower engineering design, construction and operations, FFP has more than 100 projects under development.
I and the KIUC Board of Directors are completely confident in FFP’s credentials and experience. Without FFP, hydropower owned by KIUC on Kaua‘i will not be financially and operationally feasible because we would have to hire and coordinate with separate consultants for the many permits we must secure at the local, state, and federal levels.
I want to be clear that KIUC’s engagement with FFP is solely for the exploration, not construction, of hydropower on Kaua‘i. If the results of this exploration indicate that hydropower is feasible and one or more projects should be built, we will conduct a competitive bidding process to select construction contractors.
Several of the potential projects that KIUC is evaluating are also under consideration for development by private entities. KIUC will work with any hydropower developer or private landowner who can demonstrate that they have land and water rights for a project, and have the financial and technical capability to complete a hydropower project.
KIUC’s interest is in providing our members with electricity at the lowest possible cost, and we will negotiate with private parties to ensure that we receive energy from them at a reasonable price for our membership.
In the past, the concerns of some members of our community have all but halted even the exploration of hydropower and other renewable energy sources on Kaua‘i. Talk to the old timers from Kaua‘i Electric and they will tell you that renewable contractor after renewable contractor fell by the wayside in the midst of controversy and red tape, making the likelihood of renewable energy on Kaua‘i all but impossible. While the individuals who questioned renewable projects in the past had good intentions, the result is that we are still 92 percent dependent on imported fossil fuels for our electric power generation. This is simply unacceptable.
We all know that our electricity rates are high because we have to import fuel to power our electrical generators. We also know that we need to find ways to generate our own electricity so we don’t have to depend on imported oil. To do so, we absolutely must begin the process somewhere, so I and the KIUC Board of Directors chose to begin it with a proven company, FFP, using the sound, proven regulatory and outreach proceedings set forth by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Why FERC? There is no clear written, proven process on how to do a hydro project in Hawai‘i. Thus, no one knows the exact protocol, even the state regulatory agencies. In the absence of a sound way to explore hydropower, we could be spinning in circles for years. Using the process set forth by FERC will provide us with a roadmap for hydropower development, which includes many, many opportunities for reaching out to our community and for you, our members, to share your opinions, support, and concerns.
If we decide that the FERC process is not right for us, we will be able to pull out of it at any time. KIUC can also cancel its involvement in any of the projects under consideration if our board decides that a project is not in the best interest of the community. Hydropower projects will only succeed with the support of our community, government and landowners.
I especially want you to know that the FERC process cannot override state water rights or minimum stream flow determination, as some have said. The State Commission on Water Resource Management is empowered by the State Water Code to govern all water matters.
As longtime residents of this community, the KIUC Board of Directors are committed to making sure that Kaua‘i’s customs, historical treasures, and environment are held sacred and integral to the process. Kaua‘i is our home, and we will take care of it.
Why hydropower? Because it’s the lowest cost of power at 25 percent cheaper than solar/PV and about 30 percent cheaper than fossil fuel generation today. This would be a significant savings for all of us. Hydropower is also a sustainable source of energy and will help reduce our dependency on imported oil.
Did we err in not pulling KIUC members into the discussion about hydropower, FFP and FERC earlier? Perhaps, and for that I apologize and commit to provide all of our members with opportunities to be involved in discussions about renewable energy as early and as often as possible. To that end, we have begun and will continue to meet with individuals and organizations throughout the island and to harness media, social media, the Internet, mail, and any other methods we can to have a dialog with you about renewable energy on Kaua‘i.
Can we delay having renewable energy on Kaua‘i? Can we pay more to look into unproven technologies and use contractors without track records? No, I don’t think so. Oil is expensive. Our electricity rates are painfully high for many in our community. We must begin to look at alternatives. The time is now.
For more information about hydropower, FFP, FERC and more, I invite you to visit KIUC’s new renewables website at www.KIUCRenewableSolutions.com. The site is continually updated as we progress on our goal to generate 50 percent of Kaua‘i’s energy from renewable resources by 2023. And beginning June 13, when you receive your ballots to show your support for hydropower on Kaua‘i, please vote yes.
• David Bissell is president and chief executive officer of Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative.