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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hawaii Legislature focusing on targeted tax hikes, special funds


By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The Navy wants to increase up to sevenfold the state's solar power output as part of a militarywide effort in Hawai'i to reduce its dependency on foreign fossil fuels.

About 160 people from 61 companies on the Mainland and in Hawai'i attended a forum yesterday at Marine Corps Base Hawaii to discuss the effort.

A short distance away, also on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, a biofuels gathering that focused on growing renewable energy crops for Navy fuel drew 250 people and about 100 companies.

The meetings were separate, but the goal is the same: a drive by the military to curb its use of foreign oil. Officials said Hawai'i is the most oil-dependent state in the nation, getting 90 percent of its fuel from overseas nations.

In January, the Navy and U.S. Department of Agriculture signed an agreement to increase biofuel crops and other renewable energy sources for military use.

Hawai'i was chosen for the initial collaboration between the two federal entities.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan yesterday called the biofuels gathering a "historic day for Hawai'i."

"This charter partnership, under the agreement, gives us the chance to tap the under-utilized agricultural potential of Hawai'i," Merrigan said at a news conference.

On Maui today, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, will join with Merrigan and officials of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. to discuss commercial production of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy sources for the Navy.

Officials said the Office of Naval Research will commit about $2 million a year to the effort and the Department of Energy this year will add another $2 million.

Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and the environment, said at the news conference yesterday that the state of Hawai'i is a partner with the Navy and Agriculture Department in the renewable energy effort.

That partnership "will allow us to model what can be done, what crops can be grown in Hawai'i, and show how we can use them to help our nation get off fossil fuels," she said.

Navy demand for jet fuel will be used as the "pull" for renewable fuel crop growth.

GROWING OIL

Robert King, president of Pacific Biodiesel Inc. and one of those attending the first day of the two-day industry forum, said Hawai'i doesn't have commercially grown oil crops in the state, and the big issues are which fuels to grow, and which ones are right for Hawai'i.

"I like the tone that we are hearing, that we are going to move (on biofuel crops), we are going to do this, it is going to happen," King said. "But let's see if it hits the ground with some real projects."

Pacific Biodiesel, started in Hawai'i, produces biofuel from used cooking oil.

King said the city of Honolulu is one of its biggest customers.

Algae, jatropha, camelina and other crops are mentioned as possible fuel sources.

Hawai'i Pure Plant Oil grows jatropha on 250 acres of former sugar and papaya land in Kea'au on the east side of the Big Island. The company claims jatropha, which doesn't compete with food stocks, is up to 50 times more productive than corn per acre for biofuel.

King said an investment needs to be made in "helping farmers to grow the next crops (in Hawai'i). We've been trying to get these first models out there for a long time, but it's just been real difficult to get any traction for that."

TAPPING SUNSHINE

Separately yesterday, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific briefed about 160 people representing 61 companies on a big solar power expansion being overseen by the Navy for the military in the Isles.

The maximum value of all contracts combined is $500 million for up to 30 years.

The solar projects, being offered to small businesses, are expected to be built on rooftops, parking structures and open land on sites that total up to more than 6 million square feet.

The initial 20-year task order for Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Army Reserve facilities covers 2.8 million square feet of space, including 1.2 million feet of runway site on Ford Island.

'THAT'S HUGE'

The Ford Island site work would require a State Historic Preservation Division review and approval with a finding of "no adverse effect," the Navy said.

Thin-filmed panels would be placed no more than a foot high above the ground with no disturbance to the asphalt except for weed clearing, according to Navy documents.

Not all the square footage cited by the Navy would be covered in photovoltaic panels or solar "thermal" power systems. Rather, contractors will propose projects that they will build, own and operate on those sites and that can vary in size to meet the Navy's power purchase rate of less than 16.6 cents per kilowatt hour for the first two years.

That electricity rate would provide a cost-savings for the government over fossil fuels.

Arthur Athas, vice president of market development for Solar Power Partners out of Mill Valley, Calif., said the 56 megawatt maximum solar production being sought by the military dwarfs the approximately eight mega-watts of photovoltaic power now produced in Hawai'i.

"A 56-megawatt solicitation that's huge," Athas said. "It places Hawai'i in the forefront of renewables in the United States."

Putting that energy on Hawaiian Electric's grid will be the biggest challenge, and the utility has to perform interconnection studies, he said.