KIUC leading the way toward energy independence

It’s easy to not like Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. After all, Kauai is among those places with the highest energy costs in the nation. Who doesn’t cringe when they receive their KIUC bill? And we all know the drill of being sure to turn everything off in the house and unplugging anything that might draw electricity, from the coffee pot to the phone charger to the night light. Fans must go off when we leave the house. We’ve all gone out for the evening, then later realized we left the lights on in the kitchen, and rushed home to turn them off.

As for running an air conditioner, well, you almost need to be one of the rich and famous to be able to afford to operate one. We were told the story of a resident who was very excited to finally buy an air conditioner and turned it on only at night to keep cool so she could get a relaxing night’s rest. The sleep was wonderful — until the bill came at month’s end. That was the end of using an air conditioner. The resident gave it away, unable to afford the cost of this small comfort.

But despite all that, despite high energy costs here, we have to give KIUC their credit where credit is due. And by that, we’re talking about the Thursday dedication of the $40 million, 12-megawatt new solar array in Koloa.

The array, which consists of 45,360 panels, will generate 5.5 percent of the electricity used annually on Kauai. It produces enough electricity to power about 4,000 homes. This is a big step toward using renewable resources, which in turn, leads to lower power bills for KIUC’s customers on Kauai.

This cooperative is leading the way toward ending this island’s dependence on costly oil. And KIUC is not done. A $54 million, 12-megawatt array is being constructed in Anahola and slated to come on line next year. When that happens, KIUC could have the highest daytime solar penetration of any utility in the U.S. It’s critical, on an island as isolated as this one, that all efforts are made to achieve energy independence, and KIUC is doing that.

Here are a few quick items we should note about Hawaii’s only member-owned utility cooperative that serves 33,000 customers on Kauai:

– In four years, it has increased the amount of renewable energy on its grid as it moves toward its goal of using renewable resources to generate 50 percent of Kauai’s electricity by 2023.

– By the end of this year, renewable resources will generate 30 percent of Kauai’s electricity, up from 8 percent in 2010.

– The Koloa array generates electricity at a cost of about 11 cents per kilowatt hour compared to about 23 cents for electricity created by burning oil.

Congratulations to David Bissell, president and CEO of KIUC, and the rest of board and staff there on the dedication of the state’s largest solar project. With such continued efforts, we believe you will reach your goal of reducing the average residential bill by at least 10 percent over the next 10 years.

And who knows. Maybe then we won’t have to sweat about the bill when we turn on the air conditioner.

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