Big Biomass Coming to the Big Island
There is a price to pay for living in paradise. The people of Hawaii put up with an uncomfortable reliance on imported oil to fuel their electric plants and their cars.
The islands’ power supply is 90% dependent on imported oil. As a result, the population pays some of the highest rates in the U.S. for power and gas. Late last week, the Hawaiian Electric Company awarded a biomass contract to a renewable energy development company called ‘Āina Koa Pono, which means “for the good of the land” in Hawaiian. The company is planning to invest $320 million in a 13,000 acre “energy farm” in the Ka‘ū District of Hawai‘i Island (the southernmost district on the Big Island) on farm land that has been fallow for 14 years.
The farm would grow sweet sorghum and eucalyptus trees which would feed an energy plant with “the latest biomass conversion technology to transform plant matter – including unwanted invasive plant species – into usable energy products including biofuel, electricity and gasoline,” according to a company statement. No word yet on which of a host of cellulose to energy technologies would be used, or how much energy and fuel would be produced.
Over the last few years I’ve been reading about vague plans the state has for unhooking its fragile energy lifeline. There are wind farms (also in Kau, for that matter), plans for geothermal, solar, you name it. But added up they still don’t make much of a dent, because the scale has not been large enough. In fact, the most widespread cleantech innovations on the islands appear to be clotheslines and biodiesel from used vegetable oil.
But, as the Hawaii Dept. of Business, Economic Development and Tourism puts it, “Unlike the Mainland, Hawai‘i can’t turn to neighboring states to make up for any temporary or permanent energy shortages. Unlike any other state, imported oil is the single thread that can completely unravel Hawai‘i’s future.” Yikes. The state has clearly outlined it’s ideas for renewable power sources, but it’s hard not to get the sense that they’ve been a little slow to act.