Oahu’s Kahe Valley inspired both energy innovators and an artist

Estee Manfredi | Aug. 13, 2020

After the completion of Honolulu Power Plant (Alakea Power Plant built in 1920 and the Leslie A. Hicks plant added in 1957) and Waiau (our first plant, built in 1938), Hawaiian Electric wanted to look for a third generating station to better support its major transmission system and the continuing rise in customers and demand for electricity.

In the 1950s, nuclear power was thought to be the future of generation for Oahu. In order to accommodate a nuclear plant, the company needed to locate a site that was close to the water, away from the city and sheltered.

Shoreline bordering Kahe property, 1961.

The picturesque 485-acre site in Kahe valley had high mountain ridges on three sides, was near the ocean and was close to the oil refinery at Barber’s Point. They decided to first build an oil-burning plant with plans to install a nuclear unit later. (Read the previous blog about why nuclear power didn’t take in Hawaii.)

Ralph B. Johnson, president of Hawaiian Electric from 1959–1966.

This photo shows Ralph B. Johnson, president of Hawaiian Electric from 1959–1966, with Reverend Abraham Akaka from the Kawaihao church at the site dedication ceremony on Aug. 14, 1961. The ceremony was attended by about 60 community leaders and the site was dedicated to public service.

Kahe Unit 1 was completed in March 1963 at the cost of $18.9 million with the generating capability of 82.5MW. Unit 2 was completed in November 1964. Units 3 to 6 went into service in 1970, 1972, 1974 and 1981, respectively.

Hawaii artist Leo Lloyd Sexton, Jr’s painting of Kahe Valley.

To commemorate the dedication of the site, the company commissioned this painting, by modern Hawaii artist Leo Lloyd Sexton, Jr. Sexton was born in Hilo but later relocated to Honolulu. He graduated from Punahou and went on to study art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Slade School in London.

Sexton is mostly known for his landscapes, but he was also fascinated with tropical flowers.

His oil painting of ginger blossoms was published in Town and Country magazine in 1935 and in 1936, and one of his paintings was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. Sexton returned to Hilo in 1937 and was a frequent and popular exhibitor at group art shows in Honolulu. He was one of the island-born artists that contributed to and is credited with growing the art movement in Hawaii in the late 1930s.

The painting was proudly displayed in the lobby of the company’s King St. offices for many years before it was relocated to the auditorium on the second floor. When the company moved from the King St. building last year, this piece of Hawaiian Electric’s history moved too. 60 years later, Sexton’s beautiful rendering of Kahe valley, now graces the walls of the 25th floor of the American Savings Bank Tower.

Estee Manfredi is a corporate librarian at Hawaiian Electric Company.

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