KIUC seeks lease of Kokee reservoir

LIHUE — The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has recommended that the state Land Board “approve in principle” a direct lease of Puu Lua Reservoir in Kokee to Kauai Island Utility Cooperative that would allow the co-op to move forward with a major hydroelectric project on the island’s Westside.

The proposed project seeks to utilize water from Puu Lua Reservoir and connect it to a lower storage pond on the Mana Plain via a buried, 5-mile-long steel pipeline, according to KIUC. 

The Land Board will take up the matter during its regular meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Friday. KIUC spokesman Jim Kelly said the meeting is the first step in what will be a long process that will involve an Environmental Assessment and public hearings. 

Kelly said pump hydro is a simple concept. The project would allow KIUC to utilize solar energy during the day to pump water uphill to the reservoir. At night, he said, the co-op would open the gates and allow the water to flow downhill, through a turbine, creating clean energy. 

“It puts solar to work during the day and gives us a great power source at night,” he said. 

The project is expected to cost between $50 and $60 million and generate 25 megawatts of electricity at night, or about 13 percent of KIUC’s annual energy needs, according to Kelly. 

“If all goes smoothly, we’d like to have it online by 2019,” he said. 

In order to use the water from the Puu Lua Reservoir, KIUC is required to obtain a water lease, according to a Nov. 14 submittal by DLNR Special Projects Coordinator Ian Hirokawa.

“As part of the project, KIUC will fully rehabilitate the Puu Lua Reservoir to be in compliance with dam safety regulations,” the document reads. “In addition, the rehabilitation will restore the reservoir’s storage capacity to its historic levels of 250 (million gallons), whereas its current operating capacity is between 35MG to 55MG.”

The board is being asked to grant approval in principal in order to allow DLNR to commence negotiations with KIUC and allow the co-op to begin to address statutory and regulatory requirements prior to seeking final approval from the board, according to the submittal. The proposed lease is for 65 years.

In KIUC’s June issue of Currents magazine, board chair Allan Smith said the project is something that will remain in place for future generations. 

“Our children, grandchildren and their children will be the ones who really benefit from this,” he said. 

The Land Board meeting is at the Kalanimoku Building in Honolulu.

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