Bioenergy plan in works
Biofuels, criticized by some as contributing to worldwide food shortages by diverting crops from grocery stores, are getting a closer look in Hawaii as the state continues searching for ways to curb its reliance on imported oil.
The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism held its first public meeting yesterday toward developing a statewide bioenergy master plan.
"I hope we get a comprehensive, collaborative plan regarding bioenergy -- the sources of the energy, the usage of the energy and the integration of the energy into our electricity and transportation fuel systems," Gov. Linda Lingle said after addressing the meeting of about 200 people in the Capitol auditorium.
Changing the state's energy demand has been a focus of the governor and the Legislature as they look for ways to reduce the state's need for imported fossil fuels, such as crude oil, coal and natural gas.
To achieve that goal, the state has tried to spur development in renewable energy sources, such as wind, wave, solar, geothermal, wave energy and agriculture-based fuels.
Bioenergy refers to the conversion of biomass -- trees, grasses, algae, ocean plants, agricultural and food processing wastes, manure and garbage -- to fuel.
One of the most common biofuels is ethanol, an alcohol-based fuel made from feedstocks such as corn, sugar and soybeans. Hawaii requires that virtually all gasoline sold here contain 10 percent ethanol, while other states are pushing a fuel consisting of 85 percent ethanol.
Critics blame soaring prices and worldwide shortages of food commodities on the push toward biofuels, mostly ethanol, driven by huge government subsidies.
Rep. Hermina Morita, House Energy Committee chairwoman, said the public meetings on the state's master plan aim to address those types of issues. "We don't want it to be food versus energy crops," said Morita (D, Hanalei-Kapaa). "We need to do both, but how do we do it in a balanced way?"
Yesterday's public meeting was aimed at identifying the opportunities and challenges that need to be addressed in developing a bioenergy master plan.
Lingle kicked off the event by signing legislation aimed at making it easier for biofuel producers to lease public lands for growing the crops needed to make fuel.
The law allows biofuel producers to enter direct negotiations to lease public, agriculturally zoned land where they may grow crops or raise livestock, and transport the biomass material to a processing plant in an industrial or commercial zone. Previously, the production facility had to be at the same location as the fuel source.
Lingle urged the group to work quickly on the master plan, citing the ongoing rise in crude oil and gasoline costs, which drive up the cost of government.
"It drives up the cost of everything, and eventually that cost ends up in the same place: in the lap of taxpayers," she added.