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Kokee hydropower project gets green light

Posted on May 21, 2012 in Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hydroelectric Power, Kauai

(Honolulu Star-Advertiser)  Federal regulators have cleared a Kauai company to begin work on a hydroelectric power proj­ect along the Kokee Ditch irrigation canal, but the proj­ect’s developers still need the support of the local electric utility.

Developers of the proposed 5.3-megawatt Puu Lua Hydropower Proj­ect on Kauai’s west side received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month in a ruling that gives the proj­ect priority over another hydroelectric facility planned for the Kokee Ditch backed by the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

The commission granted Kono­hiki Hydro Power LLC, the Puu Lua developer, a “small conduit hydroelectric exemption” that allows it to proceed with the proj­ect. In its ruling, the agency also dismissed a preliminary permit application for the KIUC-supported Kitano Water Power Proj­ect.

The order set a strict timetable for the Kono­hiki project, saying the agency “may revoke” Kono­hiki’s exemption if construction has not begun in two years or the proj­ect is not completed within four years of the order.

Konohiki was exempted from the commission’s licensing requirements in part because the proj­ect does not include a dam and is not on federal lands. Agency officials said they gave the proj­ect priority because it was further along in the development process than the more “preliminary” Kitano plan.

“The commission’s policy is to dismiss preliminary permit applications that compete with development proposals — such as an exemption application — when, as is the case here, the preliminary permit application fails to substantiate the technical, environmental and economic aspects of the proposed proj­ect,” according to the order.

The Konohiki project will use the potential hydroelectric energy available from the elevation difference of 3,300 feet to generate electricity at two power stations positioned about 3.5 miles apart along the Kokee Ditch, according to company officials. The plan also calls for making improvements to the ditch irrigation system area farmers use.

Konohiki is a subsidiary of Kauai-based Pacific Light & Power and Orenco Hydropower Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif.

A major hurdle Kono­hiki must clear is getting an agreement to sell electricity to the utility company. Representatives from Pacific Light and Orenco submitted a written proposal for a power purchase agreement (PPA) to the utility company, and met with CEO David Bissell in January to discuss it.

However, after reviewing the proposal Bissell “declined to go further because of concerns that the proj­ect was not fully developed,” a company spokes­man said.

Palo Luckett, president and chief executive officer of Pacific Light, said it will continue working with KIUC in an attempt to reach agreement on a contract.

“The project needs a PPA to move forward,” Luckett said. “We’ve been working on the proj­ect on the hydroelectric side and with the agricultural co-op since 2009,” Luckett said. “We’ve worked with the state ADC (Agribusiness Development Corp.) to get all the entitlements and agreements for multimillion-dollar improvements to the irrigations systems that the agricultural sector really needs.”

Pacific Light said it has already completed “extensive design engineering and development work” for the proj­ect that would generate an estimated 32,500 megawatt-hours of electricity a year, or enough to supply the energy needs of 4,500 homes. The proj­ect, developed with the cooperation of the Kekaha Agricultural Association, includes plans for a pressurized pipeline to provide irrigation for 6,000 acres of agricultural land, according to Pacific Light. The estimated cost of the proj­ect is $38 million to $45 million.

The Kokee Ditch is a man-made canal system constructed in the early 1900s by the Kekaha Sugar Co. to irrigate large areas of agricultural lands in Kauai’s Wai­mea district.

Kauai has eight existing hydroelectric proj­ects generating about 9 megawatts of electricity for KIUC. The utility has preliminary plans to develop at least three more hydroelectric plants on Kauai, not including the Kokee proj­ect.