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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Proposal for dam rekindled on Kaua'i

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

WAILUA, Kaua'i — An Idaho company has revived a proposal to dam the south fork of Wailua River above the falls for a hydroelectric project.

Pacific Energy Resources' Wailua Falls Hydroelectric Project

Dam: 23 feet high, 508 feet long

Reservoir: 35 acres

Penstock: 8-foot pipe, 4,800 feet long

Vertical distance dam to powerhouse (hydraulic head): 256 feet

Powerhouse: 6.5-megawatt capacity, producing 20.7 gigawatt hours annually.

Land: Private and state ownership

• Pacific Energy Resources has filed a preliminary application for a Kaua'i hydroelectric plant with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Comments will be accepted through late February. To view application on the Web, check www.ferc.gov, using eLibrary link for docket No. 12534, and a filing date of Sept. 1, 2004. For more information call Robert Bell at (202) 502-6062 at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Pacific Energy Resources proposal calls for a dam and lake that would not be visible from the existing Wailua Falls lookout, said Brent Smith, a Rigby, Idaho, developer and co-owner of Pacific Energy Resources. The project would allow enough water to run past the dam to ensure Wailua Falls always flows, he said.

"This project has been looked at a couple of times before. We think it can be built without impact to the environment and tourism," Smith said.

A pipe would carry water from above the 200-foot waterfall around the north side of the falls to a power plant in the valley bottom, where the water would be returned to the river. The power plant would be roughly 3,000 feet upstream from the Fern Grotto.

The new project is similar but not identical to one proposed three years ago by Symbiotics LLC, in which Smith also was a principal. It is significantly different from the Upper Wailua River hydroelectric proposal of the 1980s, which generated controversy over its demand for water diverted out of the Hanalei River basin.

Hanalei taro farmers and environmental groups objected to the diversion.

Anne Barnes, Kaua'i Island Utility Co-op's director of communications, said Pacific Energy has not recently discussed its hydroelectric proposal with the utility.

Environmental groups want a full review, said Judy Dalton, Kaua'i representative of the Sierra Club.

"Dams have been known to have negative impacts on the environment. That's why we're asking for impact studies to be done. We will request both a state and a federal environmental impact statement be done," Dalton said.

Smith said that if Pacific Energy proceeds with the project, full permitting would be expected to take three to five years. He said he expects it will require a full federal environmental impact statement.

State Rep. Mina Morita, D-14th (Kapa'a, Hanalei), said that as long as other environmental issues can be addressed and the system does not require diverted Hanalei water, "it shouldn't be a problem."

However, she said, the community would better benefit from first upgrading two small Wailua hydroelectric plants to get maximum power production from existing diversions.

Both were built by Lihu'e Plantation and are now run by the Kaua'i Island Utility Co-op.

The two plants have a capacity of 500 kilowatts and 900 kilowatts each, and have a joint annual output of 8 gigawatt-hours.

Barnes said the Kaua'i electric utility last year used 432 gigawatt hours. Pacific Energy estimates its proposed facility will produce 20.7 gigawatt hours annually, or about 4.8 percent of the island's power demand.

Morita said the community might also want to push wind power before hydroelectric.

"I think that wind has less of an environmental footprint than hydro, and it may be more reliable over time," Morita said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.

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