Ethanol-to-electricity plan makes sense
There has been much talk about ethanol as the next great agricultural crop for Hawai'i, supplanting sugarcane as a major economic force.
While some of this may be wishful thinking, there's no doubt that political interest in encouraging ethanol production (either from sugarcane or from sorghum) is high.
Indeed, the state already has passed a law requiring ethanol to be blended into the gasoline sold locally.
The hitch here is that while there are at least two local companies actively pursuing ethanol production, it is not yet a reality.
Yet unless there is a vibrant, sustainable market, it's tough to get the financing and capital needed to plant the needed ethanol-producing crops and then build production facilities.
That step may have become considerably easier with word that Hawaiian Electric wants to burn ethanol, in a mix with other fuels, at its new 110-megawatt plant in Campbell Industrial Park.
There are a lot of "ifs" in this announcement, including the need for tests to determine whether the ethanol would meet Hawaiian Electric's combustion standards and whether an adequate long-term supply can be guaranteed.
If these details work out — and they should — we would get a long-term fuel contract with ethanol suppliers that would help ensure stability for the industry and encourage outside investment.
Longterm, producing fuel out of products grown and processed here is an important step toward getting away from our precarious dependence on imported oil.
A thriving ethanol industry will protect open green space, produce local jobs and help us move toward energy security. Any effort that gets us closer to that goal deserves support.