6 companies vying for use of valued trees on Big Island


POSTED: Monday, January 26, 2009

HILO » In the six-way race to turn trees on the Hamakua Coast north of Hilo into electricity, diesel fuel and wood products, one company seems to have taken the lead: Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC.

The company has an existing, mothballed electrical generation plant and has commitments for biomass fuel that will last for 10 years, according to its director, Dan KenKnight. Also, the Public Utilities Commission has denied competitor Hamakua Biomass Energy LLC a needed fast-track process for selling power to Hawaii Electric Light Co.

Even after being given more time, Hamakaua Biomass had not been able to agree with HELCO on a price for electricity.

Hu Honua is the only biomass project allowed by the utilities commission to negotiate to sell power to HELCO, Hu Honua Vice President Tim Losocki told more than 100 Hamakua residents at a community meeting last week.

A major difference between the companies is that Hu Honua will spend only $40 million to put the old 22-megawatt Hilo Coast Power Co. generator back into service. Hamakua Biomass has said it would need $200 million to build a 30-megawatt power plant farther up the coast.

Hamakua Biomass Chief Executive Guy Gilliland simply said, “;Older plants will be expensive to renovate.”;

Driving this competition is the fact that “;there's a lot of wood out there,”; KenKnight said.

Tradewinds Forest Products President Don Bryan told the crowd that starting in 2010 he plans to produce wood veneer, used in making plywood, while producing 5.5 megawatts of power from waste wood.

Bryan has been trying for nearly a decade to get the project going, but financiers have repeatedly backed out.

John Ray, representing biomass diesel producer SunFuels Hawaii LLC, was blunt. Doing what the state had told his company to do - identifying state lands where trees could be turned into diesel - his company made a lot of current lessees on those lands angry.

Company representative Rory Flynn said SunFuels is still “;exploring”; to see whether the project can work. The cost would be enormous, $500 million.

But German-based SunFuels is allied with giants Royal Dutch Shell, Volkswagen and Daimler, and a commercial demonstration plant to produce biomass diesel has already been built in Germany.

Bob Numbers of Fuel Alternatives Hawaii also wants to produce diesel, but from the oil-rich beans of the jatropha plant. He gave no specifics of his company's planning.

Bob Mar of Haina Hawaiian Hardwood said his company wants to use wood as wood, to create a hardwood lumber industry.