Biofuels a viable, sustainable way to reduce Hawaii's dependence on fossil fuels
In 2010, BlueEarth Biofuels, in partnership with a subsidiary of the Hawaiian Electric Company, will open the first state-of-the-art biodiesel plant in the Pacific on Maui, moving Hawaii closer to being 70 percent less dependent on oil by 2030 in accordance with the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. Biodiesel is a clean, renewable fuel. At full build-out, the BlueEarth facility will produce 120 million gallons of biodiesel from vegetable feedstock annually and will be able to completely free Maui Electric from its dependence on petroleum diesel.
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of acres of fallow land throughout the state could be farmed in response to the market created by this plant. Local farmers are already planting crops like jatropha, kukui nut and palm seed. Early experiments with algae also look very promising.
The use of biodiesel in combustion has been found to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other toxic pollutants by as much as 80 percent over traditional petroleum diesel. In the overall "crop to kilowatt" cycle, biodiesel is shown to produce little-to-no greenhouse gas emissions when responsible land management practices are adhered to.
Most of the negative news today is focused on corn ethanol, which is a very low Btu (low in energy content per gallon) fuel additive. Some argue that corn ethanol costs us a lot more than gasoline due to its low energy content and the fact that it is a significant greenhouse gas emitter. Biodiesel, with its high Btu and low emissions, is a direct replacement fuel for petroleum diesel.
Unlike other producers throughout the United States, BlueEarth's pricing will not be linked to the petroleum-based diesel industry, making it less susceptible to volatile petroleum market fluctuations, pricing prompts and the potential for windfall profits. Unlike Big Oil, BlueEarth employs a unique, open-book, full disclosure pricing policy with caps on profit margins.
The BlueEarth Biofuels plant will be the first in the Pacific capable of meeting current U.S. biodiesel industry production and safety standards and biodiesel product quality specifications. Hawaiian Electric's stringent sustainable feedstock policy (created in conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council) and the terms of the Hawaii special purpose revenue bond financing require BlueEarth to use only feedstock from sustainable sources. BlueEarth's contract with Maui Electric requires the use of locally produced feedstock as it becomes available.
This makes BlueEarth Biofuels the only biodiesel producer in the country to commit to buying locally grown, sustainable feedstock. The sustainability requirements of the product will be subject to third-party audits as prescribed by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The project also will undergo the rigorous Hawaii Revised Statute Chapter 343 Environmental Review Process.
This project has the full support of the labor unions: the ILWU, IBEW, the Maui Inter-Labor Alliance and the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council. Workers will enjoy safe working conditions, good benefits and secure, high-paying jobs, along with bargaining-unit representation. No other biofuels producer in the country has made this kind of commitment.
Local farmers are also eager to see the agricultural industry reinvigorated. The BlueEarth facility guarantees that a viable market is being created that will provide long-term contracts with farmers and growers. The nearly $90 million investment by BlueEarth Biofuels in the facility provides farmers with a highly visible assurance that they can look forward to this market. A Biofuels Public Trust will be established to ensure that Hawaiian Electric's share of the project's net profits will be dedicated to agricultural infrastructure improvement and biofuel crop research and development.
This project offers a win-win on all fronts: significant reductions of greenhouse gas and toxic petroleum emissions and increased energy security for Hawaii. BlueEarth Biofuels will offer unparalleled sustainable product assurances, fair and transparent biodiesel pricing, and bargaining unit labor representation in a clean and safe working environment. The resurgence of a vibrant, local agriculture market will allow our energy dollars to stay within the state and allow our agricultural communities to prosper. BlueEarth Biofuels will help put Hawaii squarely on the map as the model for energy independence.
Landis Maez is president of BlueEarth Biofuels LLC.