BLNR renews KIUC permit despite local opposition

  • Contributed by Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative

    David Bissell is president and CEO of Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative.

  • Contributed by Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative

    The lower Waiahi hydroelectric plant is seen from the air.

LIHU‘E — The state Board of Land and Natural Resources renewed Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative’s revocable permit to divert water from Wai‘ale‘ale and Waikoko streams last week, despite opposition from local groups.

The permit, which KIUC needs to divert water for hydroelectric-power generation at its Waiahi facilities, is a years-old point of contention. Those against the permit described the practice as wasteful at the Dec. 10 BLNR hearing, arguing the diversions generate approximately 1% of KIUC’s total electricity, while cultural practices are inhibited and sacred waters run low.

David Bissell, KIUC president and CEO, claimed the single percentage point isn’t nominal.

“We feel that hydro is an important resource for Kaua‘i. It’s a very-significant source of diversified renewable energy for our island,” he said Dec. 10. “…One percent is an important figure. It’s not a small amount. That’s about 300,000 gallons of oil we don’t use when (Waiahi) is working at 100%.”

But the Waiahi facilities aren’t working right now due to a June 2019 siphon break that has yet to be fixed.

Bridget Hammerquist of Friends of Maha‘ulepu and Kia‘i Wai o Wai‘ale‘ale, and Earth Justice Attorney Leina‘ala Ley, representing community group Hui Ho‘opulapula Na Wai o Puna, argued KIUC should not seek to renew its water-diverson permit until the break has been repaired.

“KIUC admits it has not used water from the two diversions for the past two and a half years, and will not be able to use water for the foreseeable future because it has not repaired the siphon and it does not have plans, currently, to contract for those repairs,” Ley said.

Earlier in the hearing, Bissell claimed KIUC is performing ongoing maintenance on the ditch system to keep it functional, and is monitoring oil prices to determine if repairing the siphon is cost-effective under current market conditions.

The seven-member BLNR ultimately voted to approve KIUC’s permit request, with six ayes. Boardmember Kaiwi Yoon abstained.

The board also denied verbal requests for a contested-case hearing on the matter, and denied petitions for a contested-case hearing pertaining to a prior KIUC permit request.

However, Boardmember Chris Yuen advised KIUC to mend fences with the local community.

“I’m hearing things that sound like there are things that KIUC could do on the ground that would reduce or, perhaps, hopefully, eliminate much of the opposition that they have for this,” Yuen said. “I think KIUC should take this possibility very seriously.”


Scott Yunker, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or

  1. Rev Dr Malama December 20, 2021 10:31 am Reply

    Return the land to Hawai’ian Hands…. Is the only way to restore power to the people!!!

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