KIUC renewables, reliability rose in 2020 despite revenue hit

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative chalked up a string of accomplishments in 2020 despite a pandemic-related drop in revenue, according to President and CEO David Bissell, who spoke at the 19th annual KIUC membership meeting held online Wednesday.

Achievements cited by Bissell included exponential progress toward the cooperative’s goal of 100% renewable-power generation, stabilized rates and increased system reliability.

“We’ve made incredible strides since 2010, when we were more than 90% dependent on fossil fuels, to reaching 67% renewable generation in 2020,” Bissell said.

“We have literally blown away our own strategic-plan goal of reaching 50% by 2023, and also the state’s benchmark of reaching 30% by 2020. Our renewable generation was the most of any island in the state in 2020.”

KIUC increased its renewable-source generation by nearly 20 megawatts while reducing spending on fossil fuels in 2020. The increasing reliance on renewable energy sources — solar, biomass and hydropower — is driving members’ rates down, Bissell continued.

“This is largely because our renewables are purchased at fixed prices through long-term power-purchase agreements,” he said. “These prices will not go up for 20 to 25 years, depending on the specific agreement.”

Many of the cooperative’s utility-scale solar projects also deliver power at a lower cost than the average cost of fossil fuel, Bissell added, thereby creating a downward pressure on rates over time.

The cooperative’s success in 2020 was tempered by a 9.9% decrease in electricity usage, which equated to a “significant” 6.3% decrease in revenue. Bissell attributed the drop to the widespread closure of businesses at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, noting KIUC offset its revenue losses through a reduction in non-essential spending and the procurement of a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Now, revenue is increasing as the island’s visitor industry booms in 2021. For the past two months, KIUC’s electricity sales have been up double digits from the same time last year.

“However, we are still trending below 2019 sales levels, as many businesses remain closed or operating below capacity,” Bissell said.

KIUC’s was the most-reliable power system in Hawai‘i in 2020, boasting a 99.9% reliability rate — the best in the cooperative’s history. KIUC’s ability to maintain reliability while logging more than 1,500 hours on 100% renewable-grid operations in 2020 represents “an incredible achievement,” according to Bissell.

The president and CEO also delivered a roundup of recently completed or pending KIUC projects, including the West Kaua‘i Energy Project, a pump storage hydropower facility with solar power that will bring KIUC to 90% renewable when completed.

“We’ve just submitted a draft environmental assessment on a project to the Department of Land and Natural Resources for review, and (we’re) hopefully publishing for public comments in the very near future,” he said, directing members of the public to westkauaienergyproject.com for more information.

Bissell also touched on the $8 million Anahola Service Center construction project, which broke ground early this year. Once complete, the service center will house the cooperative’s Eastside field operations.

“Compared to our Kapa‘a location, it will provide for more space for material storage, faster response to North Shore outages, and it will include a community meeting room for use during regular business hours,” he said.

Completion of the Anahola Service Center is anticipated to occur late this year or in early 2022.

Bissell closed his 30-minute presentation by offering assistance to KIUC members with past-due balances and looking to the future.

“We’ve been working hard to accommodate members with past-due balances by referring them to assistance programs and offering 12-month payment-plan options,” Bissell said, noting the state Public Utilities Commission lifted the suspension of disconnections for non-payments on June 1.

“Please reach out to us if you have a past-due balance, and we’ll work with you on various options to bring your account up to date.”

The KIUC board of directors has begun development of an updated strategic plan. The plan was last updated in 2016.

“We’ve accomplished or made progress on many of the goals that were included in the 2016 plan, and it’s important that we continue to refine our strategic direction on a regular basis so that we can address evolving needs and opportunities,” Bissell said.

“The board will be seeking members’ inputs and what should be included in the plan, so please keep your eye out for more information on that process in the next couple of months.”

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Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or syunker@thegardenisland.com.

2 Comments
  1. RGLadder37 July 24, 2021 1:16 am Reply

    Solar energy is still yet new to most people. As way back to 1975 solar heater were used in homes. But that was the older version. This helped. But replacing all housing complex with solar would be difficult. Still too costly.


  2. Jay Franklin July 24, 2021 7:45 am Reply

    It is great that Kauai has such a high renewable energy percentage but my most recent bill calculates at 36.58 cents per kilowatt hour while the national average is 10.42 cents. Sure we have a hedge against increasing oil prices but we need transparency regarding the contracts made with the various private companies selling power to KIUC. How much are they investing and what is their rate of return and profitability? Young Brothers inter-island freight rates are regulated by the State to provide them a reasonable rate of return on their investment. I would like to know if we will ever see price reductions. If the Anahola solar project produces 5% of the island’s power on sixty acres, then we just need maybe 300 acres of additional solar panels to get to 100% renewable when we can figure out how to store this power. I would also like to understand why KIUC doesn’t do more projects rather than entering into contracts with private companies? Let’s see a really detailed investigative report on this.


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