By Hank Soboleski — Island History | Sunday, May 20, 2018, 12:05 a.m.
On Jan. 1, 1905, the original Kauai Electric Company — a subsidiary of McBryde Sugar Company — was incorporated for the purpose of using the water of Wainiha Stream to generate electric power for McBryde, located some 34 miles away with its main office at Numila.
Henry A. Jaeger was contracted to construct tunnels and ditches to carry high level water from Wainiha Stream downhill through 4½ miles of rough mountain country to a point 565 vertical feet above the site of a hydro-electric plant.
Meanwhile, Hawaiian Electric Co. built the hydro-electric plant and a 1,700-foot-long pipe penstock, which received Jaeger’s water from the tunnel nearest the hydro-electric plant and carried it rapidly downward into two generators within the plant.
Transformers then stepped up the generated current from 2,200 volts to 33,000 volts for transmission.
In the meantime, the Rev. John Mortimer Lydgate, the pastor of Lihue Union Church and an expert surveyor, surveyed the route of a powerline, which was then constructed of cedar and ohia poles carrying transmission lines from the hydro-electric plant, through jungles and steep terrain, to McBryde Sugar Co., where its current would be applied to drive McBryde’s irrigation pumps.
During construction, poles were sometimes required to be set in precipitous places, where horses and mules could not carry them.
Men would therefore raise poles to their shoulders instead, and moving slowly upward on their hands and knees, would set the poles in place — all without accident.
Kauai Electric completed its work on Aug, 4, 1906, in only 1½ years from the time it was organized — a marvelous feat of engineering — and was disincorporated in 1921.
Today, the Wainiha hydro- power system supplies Kauai Coffee Co. with power, as well as 6 percent of Kauai’s total power generation.
The Powerline Trail, an unmaintained former utility road of about 10½ miles in length, popular with hikers, follows the route of the Wainiha Powerline between the mauka end of Kapaka Street, Kilauea, and the mauka end of Kuamoo Road, Wailua.