New Maui Biofuel Project

March 28, 2014

For those of you prospective Maui home buyers who are concerned about the cost of living here on the island, you might be interested in a new and important development in Maui’s energy future. A new kind of renewable energy source is in the works for the island, and according to recent reports, Maui Electric Co. has earned the approval of Hawaii regulators to begin working on a power purchase agreement for the project. By now, anyone following the news has heard plenty about wind and photovoltaic energy projects on the island, but this is an agricultural energy project, proposed by Anaergia Services, the California-based subsidiary of Anaergia Inc.

You’re probably wondering how agriculture is linked to renewable energy. In this case, the answer is a biofuel generated by sorghum, a plant that’s native to Hawaii. The fields will even be irrigated with water from the nearby Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility so the project won’t put pressure on Maui’s water supply. Mature crops are harvested and naturally converted into a methane-rich gas known as biogas in anaerobic digester tanks. This means that naturally occurring bacteria are responsible for the process.

If successful, the project, known as the Mahinahina Energy Park, will bring in up to 6 megawatts of biogas energy. The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission gave Maui Electric a waiver on the competitive bidding process, and the company is required to file a fully executed power purchase agreement within six months. That agreement will be long-term.

The park will be located on parcels with agricultural zoning on the former Maui Land pineapple plantations, which are owned by Maui Land & Pineapple Co. and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The project is getting support from the county because it puts the water from the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility to use in an environmentally safe and sustainable way. As they say, waste not, want not. In this case, the reclaimed water will be used to generate crops that will in turn be used to generate renewable, sustainable fuel, which will finally be used to generate electricity.

Hopefully, the project will be a big success for the island, but one thing is for certain, things are moving fast on this one. It really helps to have county support, which is why this project is progressing faster than what we see for Maui real estate developments and the like. If all goes well, this project will result in helping to reduce our Maui energy bills.

Mahalo for reading this week, and don’t forget to check in each Friday for our latest Maui lifestyle, real estate and economy blog! – By Mark Harbison

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