Kauai’s energy future

LIHUE — There’s a major energy transformation happening on Kauai.

Take a look at Eleele, for example, where a Kauai Island Utility Cooperative power plant now sits next door to a large solar farm.

“It’s really exciting,” said Ben Sullivan, energy coordinator of the county’s Office of Economic Development. “Here you have the juxtaposition of what we’ve been using for a century right against the photovoltaic panels.”

Sullivan and Ed Nakaya of KIUC were the guest speakers Tuesday night at the Kauai Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce meeting. Only a few people turned out to hear about how KIUC and the county are working toward making Kauai’s energy cleaner.

Last year, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. announced the county’s plan to achieve an 80 percent emissions reduction by 2023. Sullivan said the county will do that by reducing its consumption by 30 percent, fleet fossil use by 50 percent and collaborating with KIUC to transform energy use and production.

“We feel like we have to lead,” he said of the county. “We can’t go out and say, “You should. You should. You should.”

The county currently spends about $9 million per year in electricity costs, which represents about 5 percent of the island’s load. The Department of Water is the county’s largest user, accounting for 39 percent of the bill.

More than looking for energy projects, Sullivan said the county is focusing on helping transform a culture to be more energy efficient.

“It’s really about people coming back to us with ideas — how they’re going to save energy in their departments,” he said.

At KIUC, the goal is to generate at least 50 percent of the island’s electricity using renewables by 2023. In 2009, oil was used to generate 91 percent of power.

By next year, that number will be reduced to 62 percent, thanks to two large solar projects — one in Koloa, another in Anahola — and a biomass facility coming online. 

“Major stuff is happening this year and next year,” Nakaya said. 

As for the 50 percent goal for 2023, he said, “Never mind that.”  

Instead, KIUC predicts oil and gas will be down to 36 percent. Additionally, solar and storage is expected to account for 34 percent of the island’s energy, hydro for 18 percent and biomass for 12 percent. 

Nakaya said KIUC cannot afford to chase renewable energy at any price. 

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