The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, the island’s community-owned electricity company, is moving closer to its goal of developing an integrated pumped storage hydropower, solar and battery project: the first of its kind in the world.

A map of the West Kauai Energy Project, an integrated pumped storage hydropower, solar, and battery project: the first of its kind in the world.
Kauai Island Utility Cooperative and AES Corp want to build an integrated pumped storage hydropower, solar, and battery project on the island’s west side. The project would provide up to a quarter of Kauai’s power supply and gradually lower KIUC’s 34,000 members’ electric bills. Courtesy: Kauai Island Utility Cooperative/2022

After reviewing the utility’s final environmental assessment, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources determined last month that the West Kauai Energy Project would have no significant impact on the environment. The finding relieves KIUC and its partner AES Corp., a mainland-based developer of a wide variety of power plants, of having to produce a more thorough environmental impact statement.

But some West Kauai residents, including Waimea kalo farmers, are pushing back against the DLNR’s decision to allow the utility to skip the EIS. They argue that an EIS is crucial to discovering whether the project’s call to divert millions of gallons of water from the Waimea River would inflict harm on the environment.

Po’ai Wai Ola, a community group established to protect the Waimea River, is concerned that KIUC plans to repurpose water diverted from the river for agriculture, but it has publicized no details about what this would look like or how this would be achieved.

Opponents also condemn state environmental regulators for neglecting to hold a public hearing before finalizing a decision about the project’s effect on the environment.

If it wins the necessary approvals, the West Kauai Energy Project could provide up to a quarter of Kauai’s power supply, increasing  the utility’s renewable energy capacity to 90%, KIUC spokeswoman Beth Tokioka told Civil Beat last year. This would help to gradually lower KIUC’s 34,000 members’ electric bills.

Roughly 70% of Kauai’s electricity grid is currently powered by renewables — more than any other county.

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