Kauai Island Utility Cooperative has reached an important milestone by increasing its renewable portfolio to more than 50 percent. This was KIUC’s goal for 2023: We have gotten there five years early.
This is good for the environment and good for our members’ pocketbook. The shift significantly lowers our greenhouse gas emissions and replaces high cost fossil fuels with lower cost renewables.
KIUC’s renewable portfolio is growing but there are only a few renewable technologies available to us. For example, the large number of endangered seabirds and bats here prevent the use of wind, which is a preferred renewable in many areas.
Preserving and expanding opportunities to use solar, biomass and hydro along with battery storage capabilities will be critical to reaching the State of Hawaii mandate of 100 percent renewables by 2045.
Our Upper and Lower Waiahi hydroelectric plants have been producing energy on Kauai since the 1920s, using water from the North Fork of the Wailua River and Waikoko Stream, and then returning it to Waiahi Stream, which is part of the Wailua River system.
These plants were originally built to supply power to Lihue Plantation Company’s sugar operation. They generate roughly 1.5 megawatts of electricity at a cost far, far lower than any other generation facility that supplies KIUC with power.
Their continued use directly avoids burning roughly 675,000 gallons of diesel each year, and assists us in delivering reliable power to our 25,800 members at one-third the cost of fossil fuel generation.
In addition to delivering these important community and environmental benefits, water exiting the hydro plants has allowed both plantation and diversified agriculture to flourish in Wailua for nearly a century.
Although the plantation closed for good in 1999, roughly 75 farmers and ranchers 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. The agricultural viability of the entire Lhue basin depends to a great degree on this agricultural water.
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 Resource Management. The state permits some uses, denies others, and establishes limits on still more.
Under a revocable permit which allows KIUC to maintain and operate the diversions and associated ditch system, KIUC has consistently complied with diversion limitations.
Over the past year, the ditch infrastructure has been modified to release increasing amounts of water back into the streams, in an effort to insure mauka to makai flow at all times.
Since applying for a long-term lease in 2004, KIUC has conducted numerous environmental and cultural studies for the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The Department of Hawaiian Homelands was recently granted a reservation of water rights to support current and future homesteaders in the area.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources is poised to act on KIUC’s lease request in 2019, and in doing so will ensure a balance in the beneficial use of these waters.
Caring for 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 chair of the KIUC board of directors, Jan TenBruggencate is vice-chair, and David Bissell is president and CEO of KIUC, a member-owned cooperative serving 33,000 customer accounts on Kauai. It was formed in 2002 and is governed by a nine-member, elected board of directors.