Kauai Island Utility Cooperative hit an important milestone in 2017 by increasing its renewable portfolio to nearly 45 percent and reducing our use of fossil fuels by a full thirty-three percent. We are using 11 million gallons less of diesel every year, and in the process we are significantly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
KIUC’s renewable portfolio is growing but is limited in the type of technologies we may use due to important considerations such as availability of natural resources and impacts on endangered species. Preserving and expanding opportunities to utilize solar, biomass and hydro will be critical to reaching the state of Hawaii mandate of 100 percent renewables by 2045.
The Upper and Lower Waiahi hydroelectric plants have been producing energy on Kauai since the 1920s utilizing water from the Blue Hole Diversion of the Wailua River. Originally built to supply power to Lihue Plantation Company’s sugar operation, the plants now generate roughly 1.3 megawatts of electricity and are among the most cost-effective generation facilities that KIUC operates.
Their continued use directly avoids burning roughly 500,000 gallons of diesel each year, and assists us in delivering reliable power to our 24,500 members: virtually every household and business on Kauai.
In addition to delivering these important community and environmental benefits, the Blue Hole diversion has allowed both plantation and diversified agriculture to flourish in Wailua for nearly a century.
Although the plantation closed for good in 1999, numerous farmers and ranchers currently rely on the water that comes out of this ditch system to irrigate their lands. The system also provides drinking water for residents in the Lihue area and supports successful ecotourism businesses.
We have a robust water management system in the state, under the guidance of the State of Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Commission on Water Resources Management. The state permits some uses, denies others, and establishes limits on still more.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources decision earlier this month reconfirmed the legal operation of the Blue Hole diversion with the renewal of a revocable permit, and anticipates that CWRM will conclude its work on the establishment of Interim Instream Flow Standards for the Wailua waters early in 2018. KIUC is assisting in this process and will permanently modify the Blue Hole diversion so that the new instream flow standards will be met. In the meantime, we are taking short-term steps to increase water flow just below the diversion.
Since applying for a long-term lease in 2004, KIUC has conducted environmental and cultural studies for the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
In connection with processing KIUC’s application for a long term water lease, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands will obtain a reservation of water rights to support current and future homesteaders in the area. Discussions pursuant to this important action will begin in early 2018.
Responsible use of our natural resources is a shared value of all who live on Kauai. KIUC, as a not-for-profit organization providing a critical service to our island, remains committed to being a responsible steward of these resources – including the Blue Hole diversion and the water it provides.
Allan Smith is chairman of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative Board of Directors.