two surviving ventures face high hurdles
Ask just about anyone involved in the effort to start a home-grown ethanol industry in Hawaii and invariably the word "challenging" comes up.
Challenging, it turns out, is an understatement.
Four years ago companies were lining up to build ethanol production facilities in Hawaii after the state launched a program that offered generous tax credits and set a mandate that most gasoline sold in the state must contain 10 percent of the renewable fuel. Soaring ethanol prices, which hit a record $4.23 a gallon in the summer of 2006, also spurred interest. On the mainland, dozens of corn-based ethanol plants sprouted up across the Great Plains.
In Hawaii, meanwhile, plans were moving forward to erect ethanol plants that would mostly use sugar cane or sugar cane byproducts as a feedstock. Before any of the companies could get their permits approved, however, the price of ethanol collapsed, falling as low as $1.40 a gallon in late 2008. In addition to falling prices, difficulty in securing land to grow feedstocks and dwindling investor interest have made it difficult to get any new processing facilities up and running.
There were plans in recent years to build at least six plants in Hawaii to produce ethanol, an alcohol-based renewable fuel that can be made from a variety of organic materials, including sugar cane. Of the original six that were planned, only two are still on the books, and neither has a target date to begin construction.
Local production is the key to gradually moving the state away from imported fuel
The state’s quest for energy independence took a step forward with Hawaiian Electric Co. receiving bids from 10 companies seeking to supply the utility with biofuel produced locally to burn in its power plants.
There are a number of potential biofuel feedstocks that can be produced in Hawaii, including:
» Sugar cane
» Invasive trees
» Waste products
HECO said it would begin buying the renewable fuel over the next five years, starting with small amounts and gradually expanding its intake as the fledgling biofuel industry matures in Hawaii.
"We are pleased with the strong response," said HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg.
The deadline for companies to submit bids was Friday, and HECO is now evaluating the proposals. The names of the companies will not be made public until the winning bid or bids are announced.
State Commission on Water Resource Management Director Laura Thielen defended last week’s decision by the water panel to order 12.5 million gallons of water per day – now diverted by ditches for sugar cane irrigation and other uses – back into West Maui Mountain streams.
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She said the commission established groundbreaking requirements for water conservation and called for the development of alternative water sources to streams for users.
"It was a very hard decision to make," said Thielen, who heads the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "It’s not like it was a mathematical equation where there is one right answer. It was somewhat subjective. Maybe no one is 100 percent happy with the decisions, but to me, the important thing is we made the tough decisions."
The commission’s order Thursday to restore 12.5 million gallons to the streams – which will likely be appealed to Hawaii courts – amounted to about a third of the amount proposed by contested hearing officer and commissioner Dr. Lawrence Miike. The environmental and Native Hawaiian groups that had been hoping for more water to be restored called the decision a miscarriage of justice.
[callout]"The fact is we don’t have enough water, and there needs to be better investment in making systems more efficient and finding new water sources," Thielen said.[/callout] "I just felt it was important to make the hard decisions."
The majority members of the commission are forcing people to address the limits on Maui’s water resources, she said, adding that she hopes the panel’s action will inspire more responsible water resource management at the local level. It is time to move on to the tougher, more expensive water sources, such as digging wells and repairing leaks, she said.
HONOLULU (AP) – Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. has hired Anna Skrobecki to be the company’s senior vice president for factory and power plant operations. HC&S General Manager Christopher Benjamin said in a statement that Skrobecki has extensive experience in industrial processing plants.
Benjamin said this will help the sugar plantation as it researches alternative processing methods for biofuels.
The Navy and U.S. Department of Energy earlier this year announced they would spend several million dollars researching biofuel production at HC&S’ sugar cane fields on Maui. Skrobecki most recently was operations vice president at Wausau Paper in Wisconsin.
She also worked for Weyerhaeuser and James River Corp.
By CHRIS HAMILTON, Staff Writer
State Commission on Water Resource Management Chairwoman Laura Thielen on Friday called the panel’s decision last week to put millions of gallons of water a day back into East Maui’s streams "groundbreaking."
For more than 125 years, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. has diverted water from the East Maui watershed for its sugar cane cultivation in Central Maui. Maui County also uses stream water to supply 10,000 customers Upcountry, including farmers and ranchers.
In a statement issued by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which Thielen also heads, she called Tuesday’s 5-1 vote during a Paia meeting "a flexible approach that meets most of the needs of competing water demands."
The commission’s decision also "strongly emphasized responsible management of public trust resources," Thielen said. For the first time, HC&S must monitor and report water in its irrigation system to the state. And Maui County must fix its leaky Waikamoi flume within three years, a process already under way.
"Maui County and HC&S need to make the necessary investments to repair existing infrastructure and to develop responsible and reliable alternative water sources to meet their critical domestic and agricultural water needs," Thielen said.
PUUNENE – Within five years, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. may be out of the sugar business and use its 37,000 acres on Maui to grow much-desired biofuels, company, state and federal officials, announced Wednesday afternoon.
The announcement came with the personal endorsement of senior Hawaii U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who made a pledge to sugar workers who gathered for the event at HC&S headquarters in Puunene.
"In my name, I promise HC&S will not go under like the 16 other sugar cane operations," Inouye said. "If I am wrong, I will be out of a job."
The U.S. Department of Energy, through the University of Hawaii, and the Navy, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will provide at least $4 million annually toward research to help HC&S determine whether it is feasible to convert the more than 130-year-old company into an "energy farm," or a high-tech producer of renewable fuels, said HC&S General Manager Chris Benjamin.
It would be a dramatic transformation, officials said. The move could preserve hundreds of agricultural jobs on Maui for decades to come and potentially lead to tens of millions of dollars in capital improvement investments to the company’s aging sugar mill.
WAILUKU — Sugar production on Maui got a reprieve on Thursday, at least through the end of the year.
Alexander & Baldwin Inc.’s board of directors met in Honolulu Thursday morning to mull over shuttering its Maui subsidiary, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., after it recorded about $45 million in losses over the past two years. In a statement, the company said it would continue sugar operations through the end of the year, but that the company’s fate beyond 2010 would depend on a "favorable outcome" in water cases pending before the state Commission on Water Resource Management, as well as HC&S’s ability to increase its sugar production levels.
An attorney for the environmental and Native Hawaiian groups that are petitioning the state to order HC&S to return more water to Maui streams called the company’s announcement Thursday a "stunt" aimed at pressuring the water commission to give it what it wants.
Asked on Thursday when the board of A&B would reevaluate the sugar company’s fate, HC&S General Manager Chris Benjamin said, "It’s hard to say. No later than the end of the year, but (the review) could happen at any time. It will depend on whether there’s an adverse development, if it’s a water decision or something else.
Hilo, Hawaii — CHERIMOYA, calamansi, rainbow papaya. Puna ricotta, poha berries, lilikoi. Lava salsa, dinosaur kale, Hamakua mushrooms. This is the exotic-food litany on the lips of pilgrims who go to the Hilo Farmers Market, held twice a week on the lush eastern side of the Big Island.
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On a Saturday in mid-December I was in the greedy throng, caressing a cluster of longan, or “dragon eye” fruit; sampling a fresh, made-to-order green papaya salad; sidling up for a whiff of ripe, fragrant mango.
The Big Island, a k a Hawaii, is the biggest agricultural producer in the state. But its farming history is one of immigrant fruit — produce that is itself a pilgrim. Virtually everything that is grown in the Hawaiian islands today is an exotic, brought in from somewhere else by sailors, merchants and contract laborers; pineapple, long seen as Hawaii’s signature fruit, was introduced to the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1813 by Don Francisco de Paula y Marin, a Spanish adviser to King Kamehameha I.
On my December visit I set off in search of unusual agritourism experiences from a recent wave of Big Island farms. Though agricultural production has been geared largely toward industrial export and plantation-scale production over the last century and a half — entire crops of bananas, pineapple, macadamia nuts and sugar cane were shipped overseas, while almost everything else had to be flown in from the mainland — that mindset is shifting.
By C. Keith Haugen
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 17, 2009
News that the last sugar cane fields on Kauai were being harvested makes us realize that it won’t be long before we will see the last of what for more than a century was the single most important product of Hawaii.
It marks the beginning of the end of yet another era in our island home.
And it brings back a lot of memories.