Pump price not primary objective in ethanol mandate
Gasoline prices remain high despite the addition of ethanol to the fuel.
MOTORISTS who grumble that their fuel costs haven't decreased despite a new state law requiring that ethanol be blended with gasoline
are missing the point.
The objective of the mandate is to cut our use of petroleum and to produce within our shorelines as much as we can of the fuel Hawaii needs to run vehicles and, in due time, maybe even provide electrical power. Though that day might be years away, the state's dependence on oil for 90 percent of Hawaii's energy needs spells economic peril if other sources aren't developed.
Hawaii has been slow to join the nation in embracing ethanol as a practicable fuel. It was only three months ago that a requirement that 85 percent of gasoline sold here be mixed with 10 percent ethanol kicked in. Many mainland states have been doing this for years and have now raised the ethanol component to 85 percent.
That has increased demand and, of course, the price of ethanol, and just as they must import oil, gasoline refineries here are freighting in 100,000 barrels of ethanol a month to meet requirements.
The second part of the state's plan -- to have made-in-Hawaii ethanol -- has yet to be fulfilled. Several companies have said they will make ethanol, using either sugar cane or sorghum as feed stock, but the first plant won't be ready until late next year.
The state hopes to boost the agriculture industry by creating a market for sugar, one of the best crops for conversion to ethanol as Brazil has demonstrated, replacing 40 percent of its gasoline with the power of sugar-based fuel.
Critics contend that making ethanol requires oil, resulting in a small net gain. However, ethanol producers say their product also can be used to power plants and farm machinery.
In addition, research and new technology that could result in converting biomass -- generally plant waste -- into fuels is drawing big investment and attention as instability in oil-rich regions threaten the nation's security.
Critics also argue that growing plants for fuels will disrupt food production if acreage is turned over to a more lucrative market, but much of Hawaii's agricultural land stands uncultivated.
Eliminating the need for oil might be impossible; nonetheless, the state must explore every resource it has to cut oil from its energy diet. Pump price aside, blending ethanol with gasoline is a good start.