The state plans to build a $1.3 million hydroelectric power plant on Molokai to help defray the energy costs tied to pumping water from Waikolu Valley for its irrigation system.
A turbine generator would be installed alongside the existing 25-mile-long Molokai irrigation system, which is owned and managed by the state Department of Agriculture. The department created the pipeline more than 50 years ago to provide an irrigation system to homesteaders and farmers in the island's semi-arid central plains.
The department recently submitted a draft environmental assessment for the project, and expects a finding of no significant impact. Members of the public have until Aug. 22 to comment on the report.
The draft assessment, prepared by AECOM Technical Services of Honolulu, describes the project as "a minor modification" to the irrigation system.
"The proposed project would complement the existing irrigation systems and would not adversely impact deliveries of water for irrigation," according to the report.
The proposed hydropower project would be located along the pipeline in central Molokai on Molokai Ranch land. Installation of a turbine generator would develop the hydraulic potential that exists in the gravity flow that feeds the Kualapuu Reservoir.
The draft document says there are no residences, farming operations or businesses within a two-mile radius of the project site.
The project is expected to lower the department's electric bill for operating the irrigation system and could generate revenue if any surplus energy is sold to Maui Electric Co. A cost-savings estimate was not immediately available.
The department's Agricultural Resource Management Division, which is proposing the project, has an annual budget of about $3.2 million this year. The bulk of its funding comes from revolving and special funds, with less than 3 percent of its budget coming from the state's general fund.
"The (Molokai irrigation system) is a major consumer of electricity used for pumping water from Waikolu Stream and from wells into the system and boosting water pressure on the irrigation distribution system," the report says.
The project would also involve installing seven Maui Electric Co. poles to extend overhead power lines to the nearest existing MECO pole, located about 1,300 feet northeast of the site.
Janelle Saneishi, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said that the project is still in the competitive bidding process.
Construction work is scheduled to begin in January and is expected to take about a year.
The draft environmental assessment can be found online on the state Office of Environmental Quality Control's website at oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov.
Comments can be submitted to the project consultant AECOM Technical Services, 1001 Bishop St., Suite 1600, Honolulu 96813-3698.
Four existing small hydropower systems are connected to MECO's grid, all located on Maui and powered using what's called run-of-the-river hydroelectric generation.
They include Makila Hydro's facility on the slopes of Kauaula Ridge above Lahaina and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.'s three generators in Hamakua, Kaheka and Paia.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.