Kaua‘i’s Hydropower Future

Jul 1, 2015

Credit International Hydropower Association / Flickr

Hawai‘i  has committed to an ambitious goal of using 100-percent renewable energy within thirty years. Part of that picture includes hydroelectric power. And a bill put forth by a representative from Kaua‘i would help increase the adoption of water power. From Kaua‘i, Scott Giarman has more.

Kauai State Representative Jimmy Tokioka says the bill he introduced is as much about helping small farmers as it is about boosting Hawaii’s hydroelectric capability.  In fact, the issue was first brought to his attention by a group of small farmers on Kaua‘i. They told him that under “the current process, a farmer/landowner would have to go through the PUC permitting process and that takes a lot of time” plus “the cost of hiring attorneys.” Tokioka says they “came up with the bill and asked me to introduce it.”  

Currently, other types of renewable energy facilities are permitted on land designated as agricultural, but not hydro. Tokioka’s bill would change that.  Small farmers could install hydroelectric generating equipment no larger than 500 megawatts on their agricultural properties. 

Tokioka’s bill notes that hydroelectric power is vital to Hawaii’s energy independence.  The bill says increasing its use would also have environmental and economic advantages.  It states that renewable energy generation facilities on ag land must be developed in a manner that fosters both food and energy security, recognizing Hawaii’s agricultural lands are fundamentally important.

The state of Hawaii has been using hydroelectric power since 1888. In 2014, eight hydroelectric facilities provided 8% of Kauai’s electric needs.  For the remainder of the state, that number is less than 4%. Kauai’s electric utility cooperative, KIUC, has plans to expand the use of hydroelectric power on the island to more than 20%.

Tokioka’s bill has been passed by the legislature and is currently on Governor Ige’s desk, awaiting signature.