Local 'Ag' Strives to Meet Hawaii's Energy Needs

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From algae to eucalyptus, sugarcane to sweet sorghum, companies in Hawaii are striving to convert agricultural feedstocks into sources for electricity.

If local companies don’t pull through — and by many accounts it’s been a rocky start — then Hawaii could end up importing biofuels for electricity needs, something critics say goes against the state’s goals of energy self-sufficiency and price stability. The fuel could also be more costly than petroleum.

“In terms of imported biofuels, it’s hard to see the value of paying a premium for that because you’re not solving the energy security issue,” said Michael Champley, a retired executive of Detroit's DTE Energy, in an interview with Civil Beat last month. Champley was appointed as one of three commissioners for the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission by Gov. Neil Abercrombie last week.

“If you are importing biofuels, there is the same physical risk of disruption as there is in the supply of oil,” said Champley.

Hawaiian Electric Co., which owns the utilities on Oahu, the Big Island, and in Maui County, has pledged to derive 40 percent of electricity from clean energy sources by 2030. If it doesn't meet certain benchmarks along the way, then the company can be financially penalized.

Biofuels from local or imported sources both count toward meeting renewable energy requirements, though local sources are given preference.

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