Saturday, May 19, 2007

Energy Independence for Hawaii?

This is an excerpt from the latest story in New York Times series of articles "The Energy Challenge." (Free registration is required to read the full article.)

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Here on the West Side of Maui, where lush mountainsides and the warm waters of the Alalakeiki Channel juxtapose increasingly crowded roadways and a spate of new luxury hotels, the push for renewable energy has found an unlikely advocate: the chief executive of one of the most aggressive developers on the island.
Construction of a new resort is under way at the site of the old Kapalua Bay Hotel, which is owned by a subsidiary of Maui Land and Pineapple.
The real estate maven, David Cole, has used his position as head of Maui Land and Pineapple, a land holding and operating company, to promote sustainable development. The effort harks back to Hawaii’s past, with plans to return some farmland to production — this time for energy rather than food — after so many years in which the state turned its back on its agricultural history in a headlong rush into tourism and real estate.
Perhaps the most notable effort is Hawaii BioEnergy, an international consortium that includes two other local landowners, Tarpon Investimentos, an investment company in Bermuda, and Brasil Bioenergia, an energy company in São Paulo.
The consortium, which also involves the co-founder of America Online,
Stephen M. Case, and the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, took form last July with the goal to make Hawaii, which has long had to pay high prices for imported fuel, largely energy-independent.
“As islanders, we’ve had to provide for our own survival for hundreds and hundreds of years,” said Mr. Cole, 55, who was raised on Oahu but spent most of his adult life on the mainland before coming to Maui in 2003.
“Now that the technology exists to turn some of our natural resources into energy, there’s no reason we should be getting energy from anywhere else,” he said.
While companies on the mainland are subsidized to produce ethanol from corn, Hawaiian companies and Hawaii BioEnergy are turning to other materials, particularly sugar cane, which are potentially far more efficient sources of ethanol per input of energy and raw material than corn.
Statistics from the Department of Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington and evidence from Brazil’s experience indicate that ethanol from sugar cane is considerably cheaper to produce than ethanol from corn, a savings that potentially could trickle down to consumers in the form of lower energy bills.

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