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Waiahi

Background | Myths vs. Facts | Benefits

 

Waiahi Hydro Facilities 

KIUC operates the Upper and Lower Waiahi hydroelectric plants, which generate roughly 1.3 megawatts of electricity. The Waiahi hydros have been in operation for nearly a century, originally built by Lihue Plantation Company for their sugar operations. 

These plants are among the most cost-effective that KIUC operates and their continued operation directly avoids burning roughly 500,000 gallons of diesel each year. KIUC operates these facilities under the regulation of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), via a revocable permit. 

 

Background

The use of these water resources to create renewable energy has a long history. The Upper and Lower Waiahi Hydropower plants have been in operation since the 1920s. They were developed originally to supply power to the former Lihue Plantation Company’s sugar operation. 

The first lease for the facilities was issued by the State of Hawaii to the East Kauai Water Company in 1965. The agreement included a partial diversion of waters from the North Fork of the Wailua River, also known as the Blue Hole diversion. The original lease had a 30 year term, which expired in 1995, and was then continued via a revocable permit. 

Following the closure of Lihue Plantation in 1999, Kauai Electric (now KIUC) assumed operation of the hydroelectric plants, and requested approval from the State Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) for continued water use - at the historically diverted amount of 14.2 million gallons per day - from Blue Hole. While there is no record of stream flows in the upper reaches of North Fork Wailua river, this amount is believed to be roughly half of the annual stream flow at that point. The BLNR granted the revocable permit in 2002.

Recognizing the importance of maintaining this renewable energy resource to avoid the use of 500,000 gallons of fossil fuel annually, in 2004 KIUC asked the BLNR for a long-term lease for the diversion and hydro facilities. Since that time, KIUC has worked with the staff of the DLNR and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to address concerns relating to environmental and wildlife impacts, as well as cultural issues. 

KIUC has either completed or is close to completing numerous studies relating to these concerns. In November 2016, the BLNR approved the holdover of the current revocable permit, noting that KIUC’s use of a portion of the waters from the North Fork diversion is consistent with the State’s public trust use guidelines. Action on the long-term lease is pending completion of all of the studies requested by DLNR and OHA. We anticipate them to be finalized in the first quarter of 2017.

 

Myths vs. Facts

In recent months, several “myths” have surfaced regarding KIUC’s use of these waters to generate electricity. Allow us to clarify certain misperceptions that have arisen:

Myth 

"KIUC is diverting 100 percent of the water."

Fact 

Under the terms of its permit, KIUC is not allowed to divert 100 percent of the water, and is allowed to divert up to 14.2 million gallons per day.  Stream flow varies greatly, which results in times when all of the water is diverted into the ditch system, and other times when water flows over the diversion structure and maintains stream continuity.    KIUC must report the amount of water diverted to the Department of Land and Natural Resources regularly to insure we are staying within our limits. 

Myth 

"KIUC has altered the diversion to take all of the water"

Fact

KIUC has made no alterations to this 100-year old system.  It operates today as it did when it was first built by the plantation.

Myth

“KIUC is operating the system without the proper permits and studies”

Fact 

KIUC operates the Waiahi hydro system under a revocable permit with the Board of Land and Natural Resources (most recently renewed in November 2016), and has applied for a long-term lease with the agency.  KIUC has either completed or is in the process of completing all requested studies from the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.  The BLNR has not acted on the long-term lease request pending completion of the requested studies.

Myth 

“KIUC is using the water to make money, which amounts to corporate greed”

Fact

KIUC is a non-profit, member-owned cooperative.  Therefore, it does not make “profits.”  Any revenues KIUC collects in excess of expenditures is returned to members in the form of patronage capital.  And since the ratepayers of KIUC share equally in the benefits of the hydroelectricity, KIUC is arguably the only entity that can claim its water use benefits everyone on Kauai. 

Myth 

“The KIUC hydros only provide 1% of KIUC’s energy needs, so they are not important.”

Fact 

The KIUC hydros provide 24/7 renewable energy that directly offsets the need to import and burn 500,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year. 

Myth

“KIUC is violating the state’s ‘public trust’ doctrine in its operation of the Waiahi hydro system.”

Fact

 In its most recent approval of the annual revocable permit, the State’s Board of Land and Natural Resources noted that the use of these waters to generate renewable power is consistent with the State’s public trust doctrine.

Myth

“The Waiahi hydropower system is killing all the wildlife in the stream.”

Fact

Consultants approved by the Department of Land and Natural Resources completed two studies relating to potential impacts to wildlife, in 2008 and 2013.  Both studies concluded that impacts to wildlife in the stream are minimal.  That being said, KIUC is committed to mitigating environmental impacts, and has been working on strategies to further address these concerns.

Myth

“The diversion is keeping all of the water from downstream users such as taro farmers.”

Fact

There are many other users of water, and two additional non-KIUC diversions, downstream of KIUC’s North Fork Wailua diversion.  KIUC is not aware of any downstream users that do not have sufficient water for their needs, and in fact has never received a complaint regarding downstream water users on North Fork Wailua.

Myth 

“There has been no environmental impact statement (EIS) on this project.  It has significant negative impacts, culturally and environmentally, and needs to be considered by an EIS.”

Fact

An EIS is not required, since this is an existing use with no changes being proposed.  KIUC has gone above and beyond what is required by State law, having completed significant biological and cultural studies, despite not being required to under Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 343.  In addition, KIUC satisfied the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) concerns in the long-term lease request, as evidenced by OHA withdrawing their contestation of the application.

Myth 

“KIUC is using all of the water without any accountability.”

Fact

KIUC’s diversions are metered, and fully comply with the State’s Revocable Permit requirements.  KIUC reports the amount of water diverted at the North Fork diversion regularly to the State, and has been recognized by the State as the only entity on Kauai that is in full compliance with recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

Myth

“KIUC’s use of the water will prevent the Department of Hawaiian Homelands from developing housing for Native Hawaiians in Wailua.”

Fact

Any lease negotiated with the Department of Land and Natural Resources will contain reservations for DHHL water rights sufficient to support current and future homesteaders in the area.  The State will reserve its right to withdraw from the lease to meet constitutionally protected water rights, in-stream flow standards, DHHL reservations, and other recognized interests.

 

 

Benefits of the Waiahi hydroelectric system:

  • Helps us provide reliable power to our 24,500 members. The Waiahi hydro facilities contribute 1.3 megawatts of power, and are an extremely cost-effective and reliable source of energy for our members.

  • A foundational element of KIUC’s renewable portfolio. KIUC is poised to set an aggressive goal of reaching 70% renewable generation by 2030. Currently we are at 36%, which includes the Waiahi hydro facilities. By strategic deployment of additional solar + battery and hydro generation, we feel confident we can reach this important goal. 

  • Regulated for environmental compliance. Lihue Plantation, East Kauai Water Company, Kauai Electric and now KIUC have all operated the system with proper state permitting in place either via long term lease or a revocable permit. KIUC has gone above and beyond what is required by State Law, having completed significant biological and cultural studies which are not required under Hawaii Revised Statutes.    

  • Provides for significant greenhouse gas reduction. The two hydroelectric plants now operated by KIUC, under a revocable permit with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, produce roughly 1.3 megawatts of power to the island’s grid, and save over 500,000 gallons of oil being imported to the island every year.

  • Allows agriculture to flourish. The hydro facilities and their associated ditch systems were built nearly 100 years ago in order to support Kauai’s sugar industry. Today, the Waiahi hydro plants and ditches continue to support diversified agriculture in central Kauai. For decades, numerous farmers have relied on the water that comes out of the hydro plants to irrigate their lands.

 

 

 

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