Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW... OR NOT

WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW... OR NOT: The outrage over Kaua`i Island Utilities Co-op’s (KIUC) anachronistic, 20th century plans for hydro-electric dams- despite the fact that all over the country people are actually trying to tear them down and use flow of the river generation- continues with word that Wailua isn’t the only river on their destructive target list.

According to an article in yesterday’s Honolulu Advertiser:

The Hanalei River, Makaweli River and Wailua River proposals involve constructing dams and weirs that would result in reservoirs of various sizes. The largest would be a reservoir with a surface area of 35 acres that would be created by a 503-foot-long, 23-foot-high earthen dam on the Wailua River. The Kokee Ditch project would tap two existing reservoirs that would be upgraded, (KIUC senior energy solutions engineer Steve) Rymsha said.

But the article goes on to point out that:

residents who submitted written comments on the Wailua plan suggested developers opt for a "run-of-the-river" approach, where the natural flow of the river could be tapped to generate electricity without building a dam. The majority of existing hydro projects in Hawaii are run of the river ( emphasis added).

Why is it that every decision made on Kaua`i seems to fly in the face of the latest “best practices” around the world? Do they issue some sort of “worst practices” manual whenever someone moves into a decision making position? Are we that far from the mainland that information takes decades to reach here? Do they lose the ability to do research when elected or appointed?

One of the more rabid opponents of this latest insanity is architect Juan Wilson who has been a voice for perma culture and sustainability on the island.

In a scathing yet well reasoned indictment of KIUC and its latest debacle Wilson writes at his Island Breath web site:

KIUC's... plan is to continue an affordable American Dream of suburban consumption. The scale and activity of their hydroelectric dreams are unaffordable and will have only damaging affect on the ecosystem of their locale...

I wrote FERC the following;

Do not permit Free Flow Power a preliminary permit application for the Wailua Power Project for Kauai Island Utility Co-op (KIUC). We do not need another hydro-power plant on Kauai.

He then gives a blunt, factual history of the financial foibles at KIUC and how they’ve managed to raise our bills since their inception, rather than lowering them as promised.

As it came into being (2002) KIUC agreed to pay Citizens Communication Co. $215 million for the assets of Kauai Electric. That was the first mistake. A ridiculous price that burdened the "Co-Op” from day one with a debt that will never be paid off.

They have locked us into a debt obligation that assumed and relied on continued economic growth for decades into the future. The bursting housing bubble, peak oil and peak food ended that dream. Now KIUC thrashes to find a gimmick to keep up with that old General Electric motto "Progress is our most important product." Nonsense!

We need our power utility co-op to help finance residential (and small business) solar PV projects.

KIUC has squandered members money and avoided facing the reality of the future. Their perception of progress is to continue on a "business as usual" consumption model that will inevitably lead to greater damage to the Kauai's ecosystem and continue to fail to serve its members.

KIUC have had several bad business ideas. One was to grow sugarcane as fuel. KIUC is oblivious to the reality that we need to grow our own food more than we need to grow biofuel for electric power generation.

KIUC is an abysmal failure as a cooperative power utility with no insight or planning that will alleviate the pain we on Kauai will experience in the next year or two as oil prices again reach the levels of the summer 2008.

But the untenable financing and idiotic business model our so called co-op has locked us into doesn’t have to be the way the future of energy looks on Kaua`i. Wilson suggests that:

The real solutions here are rather simple.

1) Promote demand destruction (50% reduction for starters).
2) Enable widespread distributed generation (using solar PV and some wind)
3) Accept system resilience over reliability.
4) Implement a 5 year plan to get off diesel fuel for electricity.

The idea of damming the Wailua River to fulfill the imagined needs of pre-collapse suburban America would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Talk about bad ideas.

This island is way too fragile to consider using geo-engineering projects like major dams to satisfy air-conditioning loads and our Chevy Volt recharging expectations. Any investment in these pipe-dreams by the idiots running KIUC is a waste of our precious treasure that could be focused on those things within our grasp.

And people wonder why our electricity is the most expensive in the country. The best thing that could happen to KIUC is that they go bankrupt and the county takes over their operation as a public utility. Then we could get down to the business of planning for the downsizing our the current grid and the affordable alternatives that are achievable in the real future we face.

For some reason it doesn’t seem to matter who we elect to KIUC’s board of directors. So far three directors who seemed to “get it” before their election- Carol Bain, Ben Sullivan and recently Jan TenBruggencate- have remained silent and apparently gone along with the majority, supposedly, we hear, because they don’t have the majority they need to overturn some “stifle rule” that forbids them from speaking on their own.

Assuming their thoughts on this and other KIUC actions are in dissent of the majority it’s time for them to rise to the to challenge by speaking out publicly, at least as individual co-op members- and letting the chips fall where they may.

3 comments:

Anon567 said...

Downright Conrowvian.

"The majority of existing hydro projects in Hawaii are run of the river ( emphasis added).

Why is it that every decision made on Kaua`i seems to fly in the face of the latest “best practices” around the world?"

How do 60-100 year old projects (the ones we have here in Kauai and most across the state) become best practices? For that matter, what is the evidence that ROR is best practice?

A 35 acre reservoir is still a ROR project. 2 days storage at low river rates is nothing.

Even ROR projects remove the water from its stream bed and drop it in a pipe (penstock) to a lower level where the turbine sits.

Some reading:

http://www.kiuc.coop/pdf/KIUC%20RE%20Final%20Report%208%20-%20Hydro.pdf

Why don't we just all admit that any electricity project will come at some environmental cost? There is no free lunch.

KimoRosen said...

Andy, why aren't you running for council or Mayor?

Brilliant article! Aloha, Kimo

Brad Parsons said...

Re: Anon567: "Why is it that every decision made on Kaua`i seems to fly in the face of the latest “best practices” around the world?"

Well said, glad to know there are others here noticing this.