Summit to focus on isle biofuels
The event will explore ways to break Hawaii's dependence on oil
As the state pushes toward its goal of independence from imported oil, most policymakers and industry leaders seem to agree that a stronger push is needed to develop renewable resources, including wind, wave, solar and biofuel resources like ethanol.
The key question is how to do that.
Officials hope to start answering at least part of that question this week, as lawmakers, government officials, landowners, energy companies, utilities, private firms, the visitor industry, academics and others convene for the Hawaii Biofuels Summit.
Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said the purpose of the summit is to formulate ways to develop Hawaii's biofuel industry.
"What I hope will come out is some consensus of what needs to be done, short-term and medium-term, and a consensus around specific measures or steps to take," Liu said. "For me, the success of the summit will be a lot more work -- not a study, not a paper, not a report, but actual work."
Liu's agency is convening the summit along with the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit energy policy analysis group which has been retained by the state to help implement legislation adopted this year.
"The intent is to gather -- at a decision-making level -- the people necessary to talk about what we need to do to try and get us to increasing the production and supply of biofuels for Hawaii," Liu said.
The Lingle administration and the Legislature have touted their bipartisan effort this year in coming up with a package of energy initiatives aimed at reducing Hawaii's dependence on imported oil through conservation and the development of alternative and renewable fuels.
Biofuels are products such as ethanol and biodiesel -- liquid fuels that can be made from agricultural crops such as corn, soy beans, sugar and their byproducts and used to displace traditional fossil fuels such as oil and gasoline.
Supporters tout biofuels as a key to not only lessen the state's dependence on oil, but also as a major factor in reviving the state's struggling agriculture industry. Advocates say that Hawaii -- with its hospitable climate for growing various energy crops -- can be a model for the United States.
The first ethanol plants in Hawaii are expected to come online in the second quarter of 2007. Officials say they are working with the local agriculture industry to secure land and crops to convert to fuel.
At various public appearances this year, Gov. Linda Lingle has noted how farm workers have been thankful for the new legislation.
"Gay and Robinson, which was really facing extinction as a company, is now going to be planting tens of thousands of additional acres," Lingle said last month.
Three of the state's largest landowners already have started a venture to study the viability of a large-scale biofuels industry in Hawaii.
The consortium, known as Hawaii BioEnergy LLC, is studying the availability of land for growing crops that could be converted to fuels, which crops or feed stock would be most efficient and which technologies would be best for making the conversion.
Partners include Maui Land & Pineapple Co., Grove Farm Co. and Kamehameha Schools, which together own about 10 percent of the land in the state.
The group plans to spend about $1 million over the next six months studying available resources in Hawaii. A progress report is expected by the end of the year.
Some experts have said Hawaii would need only about 250,000 acres of land devoted to crops for ethanol to replace the roughly 500 million gallons of gasoline used here each year.
In announcing the joint venture last month, Maui Land & Pineapple President David Cole noted that the state has about 480,000 acres of good agricultural land that is undeveloped.
But securing land for growing fuel crops is only one set of issues.
Liu said he expects wide-ranging discussions on other topics, including water allocation, regulatory measures, transportation and distribution.
He also noted that a primary participant will be Hawaii Electric Co., which already has expressed interest in using ethanol to power a new plant that would be built in Hawaii.
"We have to make sure that potential users of biofuels are ready," Liu said, "because it takes shifting of their infrastructure, as well."