Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Mauna Loa partner
to build $15M power
plant on Big Isle

KEAAU, Hawaii >> Executives of Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp. yesterday announced that a partner company will build and operate a new power plant costing up to $15 million at the macadamia company's site south of Hilo.

The power would probably be used entirely for operation of the macadamia company with no outside sales, said Mauna Loa president Darrell Askey.

The partner, Kona Carbon Inc., hopes to obtain permits for the macadamia shell fueled plant and to complete construction between June and December of next year, Askey said.

Askey also announced a $1 million upgrade to Mauna Loa's processing facility at Keaau and continued expansion of marketing on the mainland.

Three years ago the company was selling just one product in 7,500 mainland stores, Askey said. Today the company is selling up to 18 items in 20,000 stores.

"We're just getting started," said Peter Burns, the company's executive vice president for sales.

Kona Carbon would build a 1.2 megawatt power plant on five acres at Mauna Loa's facility, Askey said.

That size is small compared with other Big Island power plants. Hawaii Electric Light Co. operates a 15.5 megawatt, oil-burning plant nearby in Keaau, and the Puna Geothermal Venture plant 15 miles away has a 30 megawatt capacity.

Obtaining permits for a power plant can take years, but Askey said a Honolulu consultant for Kona Carbon feels construction completion by the end of next year is realistic. The name of the Honolulu consultant was not available.

Askey identified Bennett Miller, a former energy official in the administration of President Carter, as the president of Kona Carbon.

Kona Carbon will use an innovative technology that will harvest carbon from burned macadamia shells and convert it to activated carbon, which is used as a filtering substance.

The power plant will produce both electricity and steam, replacing the old, inefficient plant which now produces only steam as a source of heat to dry macadamias, Askey said.

The power plant will employ 12 to 20 people, he said.

Mauna Loa currently processes 30 million pounds per year of undried macadamias. The company will need 2 million more pounds per year to run the power plant at full capacity, he said.

Company officials met with more than 60 independent growers yesterday as a first step in contracting for more supplies, Askey said.

Those suppliers will supplement the company's main source of macadamias, partner company ML Macadamia Orchards LP, which supplies nuts from 4,169 acres around the Mauna Loa plant and additional locations in Kau and the slopes of Mauna Kea.


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