Energy lab cuts hours


POSTED: Thursday, July 23, 2009

Without the money to enter a new contract for security guards, the gates to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Kona will be shut early on weekdays, and closed on weekends in August, according to NELHA's CEO, Ron Baird.

“;We don't even have the authority to use our credit cards right now,”; said Baird. “;We don't even like to think about what would happen if we had an emergency.”;

It also means that regular maintenance, trash pickup and about a dozen other pending contracts up for renewal are on hold.

Luckily, Baird said, gas and diesel tanks at the lab were filled ahead of time for the tenants to use. Most tenants at NELHA rely on pumped ocean water to run their operations.

The funds to operate NELHA were transferred to the state Department of Accounting and General Services in the budget, but the agency's personnel are still with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

It was all part of an effort to downsize government, but Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a bill that would have transferred NELHA to DAGS for administrative purposes.

Now it's a matter of paperwork to put the $6.4 million back into DBEDT's budget, according to state comptroller Russ Saito. DBEDT needs to initiate the paperwork.

NELHA is home to 45 tenants, including Cyanotech, Sopogy Inc., SolFocus, a biofuel algae company, a number of aquaculture companies including Kona Blue (which produced Kona Kampachi), and water companies such as Koyo USA Corp. and Deep Seawater International.

Baird said his current contract with Inter-Con Security Systems expires at the end of July. Before entering a new one with another company, DBEDT needs to approve the funds.

NELHA companies have invested at least $150 million in their facilities for research and products that need to be protected, according to Baird.

The main entrance gate to NELHA, which opens at 6 a.m., will therefore be closed to the public at 4:30 p.m. on weekdays instead of the usual 8:30 p.m. It will also be closed on weekends.

“;Everyone will still be able to walk in,”; said Baird. “;They just won't be able to drive in.”;

Cyanotech is the largest tenant, but perhaps most popularly known are the companies exporting bottled water products drawn from the depths of the ocean off the Kona coast. In all, the companies employ about 310 people.

The ocean and science technology park has plenty of room for more tenants—it is currently about 40 percent occupied.

Two new tenants, W2 Energies and Makai Ocean Engineering, are interested in moving to NELHA, said Baird.

Friends of NELHA will continue its weekday tours, according to director Guy Toyama. Private tours, however, will no longer be scheduled on weekends.