Kona energy center lacks funding
What ever happened to the Gateway Distributed Energy Resources Center in Kona?
Answer: The alternative-energy education center near Keahole Airport was dedicated in 2004 with fanfare, speeches and no money to run it.
Volunteers from the nonprofit Friends of NELHA, the adjoining Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, are keeping the center open five mornings a week and are giving lectures three mornings a week, said laboratory Executive Director Ron Baird.
With audiences as big as 25 at a time, "they are fulfilling a tremendous educational function," he said.
They have also bought tables and chairs for the state-owned facility since the state itself failed to fund those items, he said.
The center is recognizable by its winglike rack of photoelectric cells, producing seven times more energy than the center uses, Baird said.
But in an arrangement Baird himself does not understand, all of that power goes to Hawaii Electric Light Co., and the center has to buy power back.
The result was a $31,000 electric bill last year. The Legislature authorized the center to spend $15,000 of its own money to pay the bill, meaning $16,000 still has to be found for the rest.
The center is making some money by renting out its limited office space, and the Honolulu-based Hawaii Natural Energy Institute is poised to open a branch studying hydrogen fuel at a small laboratory building at the center.
Up to 10 such small labs are planned, and agencies are interested in working there, but the state has not provided money to build the other laboratories, Baird said.
This update was written by Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Thompson.
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