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KIUC fields questions on Westside project

WAIMEA — Community members want to know how the West Kaua‘i Energy Project will save them money, create local jobs and impact the environment.

The Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative and AES Corp., the entities behind the project, are encouraging questions regarding the renewable-energy and irrigation system slated for the Mana Plain.

They were peppered with queries this week during an inaugural “Talk Story Tuesday” meeting online. Attendees included residents from throughout Kaua‘i and some from O‘ahu.

“I hope to be holding these informal get-togethers on a monthly basis, really indefinitely, as we move forward,” KIUC President and CEO David Bissell said.

The energy project proposal includes an approximately 350-acre solar farm below the Mana Reservoir, near the end of Kaumauli‘i Highway, and the rehabilitation of reservoirs, roads and irrigation systems throughout the area bordered by Waimea Canyon Drive.

The photovoltaic and hydroelectric energy created and stored in the system will allow Kaua‘i to generate enough electricity to power the island using 90% renewable energy, giving the island a significant boost toward the state’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045.

An average 500-kilowatt-hour user will save an average of $20 per month, or $240 per year, according to a KIUC bill forecast.

“Ultimately, it depends on what the equivalent price of oil would be, that we would have been using in its place if we didn’t have the renewable project,” Bissell said. “Over the life of the project, we’re estimating we’ll save $150 million-plus for our membership.”

An AES representative estimated between 100 and 200 local workers will be needed for short-term construction at the Mana Plain solar farm.

“Typically, on average, you’re going to see 20 to 40, maybe 60 constant construction workers from Koke‘e all the way to the end,” he said.

Local workers will also be needed to fill long-term operator positions once building is complete.

The state Office of Environmental Quality Control published a draft environmental assessment of the West Kaua‘i Energy Project in late August.

The study anticipates no long-term adverse impacts would result from construction. The public has until Wednesday, Sept. 22, to comment on the draft EA, which is available online at health.hawaii.gov/oeqc/ and westkauaienergyproject.com/.

Residents also questioned the feasibility of completing the project by the end of 2025.

That four-year deadline is critical to the plan’s success, according to Bissell.

“This project is eligible for 26% federal tax credits, but to do that the project has to be completed by the end of (2025),” he said. “It’s doable, but it’s a pretty-tight timeline.”

The federal tax credit rate drops significantly after 2025, an AES representative later explained, greatly affecting projected savings for KIUC members.

“It can be done in a reasonable manner, but there cannot be material delays in the permitting and approvals or the project would not continue,” Bissell said. “So, we needed to go on a reasonable timeline. AES needs to be assured that the project can go on a reasonable timeline, or it will be in jeopardy.”

The next WKEP Talk Story Tuesday is scheduled for Oct. 12. Those interested in attending are advised to monitor KIUC’s Facebook page for more information. Organizers will select an in-person or virtual-meeting venue, depending on COVID-19-related gathering guidelines. Bissell also floated the possibility of guided field trips to the proposed project sites.

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Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or syunker@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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