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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 16, 2008

Private sector's ready to roll on renewable energy

By Harry A. Saunders III

The course of Hawai'i's energy future may be determined over the next two months as lawmakers consider bold initiatives aimed at reducing our dependence on imported oil. With ever increasing energy costs and growing concern over global warming, we must move forward now with renewable and alternative energy if we expect to sustain our great state.

Many Hawai'i companies are ready to proceed with projects that can help Hawai'i meet its goal of generating 20 percent of our energy from renewable resources by 2020. But without decisive action and focused purpose by the Legislature, these alternative energy solutions have little hope of becoming reality anytime soon.

Castle & Cooke Hawai'i is ready to commit nearly $1 billion in cash and resources to develop renewable energy projects in Hawai'i. In fact, we have already invested $4 million on research and development for the following projects on Lana'i:

  • A 10-acre solar farm that could supply up to 10 percent of Lana'i's annual electricity needs.

  • A 300-400 MW wind farm that could supply up to 15 percent of O'ahu's peak power needs.

  • Infrastructure improvements, including undersea cabling, to connect our island power grids.

    Once completed, our current projects could eliminate greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 220,000 cars per year and reduce Hawai'i's oil imports by 3 million barrels per year. Our ultimate goal, which is in line with Gov. Linda Lingle's Clean Energy Initiative, is to get Lana'i powered 100 percent by renewable energy. In addition, we believe our projects — and others like them —will help stabilize energy costs, provide new job opportunities for residents and offer innovative programs to sustain our economy.

    Presently, the process of establishing large-scale renewable projects in Hawai'i averages 10 years. Much of that time is spent bogged down in redundant permitting processes. Environmental, cultural and public input must not be circumvented. However, there needs to be a concerted effort by all parties to resolve issues to get to the intended outcome — reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

    The bills being considered by the Legislature would remove barriers to private investment in renewable energy projects and help the state reach its goals sooner rather than later. We urge action on legislation to:

  • Establish a renewable energy facilitator for the state and give that position the authority to break logjams in the approval process for large scale renewable energy projects.

  • Permit solar energy facilities on lower quality (grade D and E) agricultural land.

  • Consolidate the permitting and approval process for inter-island wind energy and undersea cable projects that would allow our state to share renewable energy between islands.

  • Establish a single, clear, statewide process for siting renewable energy projects.

    These bills are bold initiatives that don't bend the rules. They don't circumvent important protections for our precious environment. What these bills do is provide clear guidelines and efficient permitting to encourage private investment in renewable energy. These bills bring us one step closer to energy independence.

    We commend our elected leaders for making sustainability a priority. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said that when it comes to sustainability, we all play for the same team.

    House Speaker Calvin Say noted: "If we could just produce half of Hawai'i's energy, we would add at least $2 billion to the state's economy. And the money stays here, not in a bank somewhere in Texas or the Middle East. This is how we will begin to take charge of our own destiny."

    In her State of the State address, Gov. Linda Lingle challenged all of us to move Hawai'i away from oil dependence and to do so "more rapidly than some would like and others believe possible."

    We couldn't agree more. Like others in the private sector, Castle & Cooke Hawai'i is prepared to help the state reduce its overwhelming dependence on imported oil and we're prepared to do it now. State officials have been talking about the need for renewable and alternative energy for the past 35 years. In that time, our thirst for energy has increased substantially, fuel costs have risen — and continue to rise — and irreparable damage has been done to our planet. We cannot afford to waste another year talking about the problems we face. We know what they are and how to solve them. What we need is for government to facilitate private investment in renewable technologies and remove the roadblocks standing in the way of a secure and sustainable energy future.

    Harry A. Saunders III is president of Castle & Cooke Hawai'i. Investing in Hawai'i since its founding in 1851, Castle & Cooke Hawai'i is now a diversified company with interests in real estate, community development, agriculture, aviation and renewable energy. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.