About The Kaʻū Calendar

Ka`u, Hawai`i, United States
A locally owned and run community newspaper (www.kaucalendar.com) distributed in print to all Ka`u District residents of Ocean View, Na`alehu, Pahala, Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, Volcano Village and Miloli`i on the Big Island of Hawai`i. This blog is where you can catch up on what's happening daily with our news briefs. This blog is provided by The Ka`u Calendar Newspaper (kaucalendar.com), Pahala Plantation Cottages (pahalaplantationcottages.com), Local Productions, Inc. and the Edmund C. Olson Trust.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ka`u News Briefs August 3, 2011

`Aina Koa Pono says that 200 of the 13,000 acres proposed for its biofuels production have been set aside for
growing food crops along Wood Valley Road.  Photo by Julia Neal
STATE CONSUMER ADVOCATE JEFFREY ONO told the Public Utilities Commission that he has yet to recommend support or opposition to the contract between Hawaiian Electric Company and `Aina Koa Pono. `Aina Koa Pono plans to build a refinery between Pahala and Wood Valley and harvest existing trees and brush and biofuels crops it plans to grow between Pahala and Na`alehu. The PUC is tasked with deciding whether to allow Hawaiian Electric to raise the rates to its customers by some two dollars per month in order to help pay for the development.
     Ono told area residents who attended public hearings on Aug. 2 in Hilo and Kona that they can still send in their comments and ideas to the consumer advocate. Testimony can be submitted to the consumer advocate at Division of Consumer Advocacy, 335 Merchant Street, Room 326, Honolulu, HI 96813 or consumeradvocate@dcca.hawaii.gov.

NUMEROUS PEOPLE FROM KA`U who attended the public hearings yesterday had questions about the project. Some asked the PUC to be the governmental body to require an Environmental Impact Statement, since Hawai‘i county and state agencies have said that none is needed, as the refinery is tied to renewable energy and agriculture.
     One speaker said that the proposal for the biofuel farm and refinery on 13,000 acres of ag-zoned land has put the PUC in the position of not only setting policy for alternative energy production but also policy over what happens to farmlands and food security. Representatives of the project said that 200 acres of the 13,000 proposed for the project have been set aside to grow food along Wood Valley Road.
     Supporters of the project were the electric companies, the firm that won the contract to engineer the refinery, a representative of the carpenter’s union, a retired sugar union leader from Pāhala, a representative from investors and a representative of property owners leasing land for the project. Mayor Billy Kenoi submitted a letter of support but cautioned `Aina Koa Pono to work closely with the Ka`u community. 
     Those with questions were predominantly residents of Ka`u, from coffee farmers to a beekeeper to a land manager, retirees and Hawaiian cultural practitioners.
     A retired professor said he wanted to say he could support such an alternative energy project but had many unanswered questions, including proof that the proposed microwave processing of biomass would actually work. 
     Another testified that the PUC and electric company might consider how money generated by the proposed rate hike (some half a billion over twenty years) could best be used for alternative energy production. She suggested that the PUC and electric company consider a number of projects that could be funded. 
     Many testifiers outright opposed the project, saying that land needed to be preserved for growing food rather than energy crops. Some testifiers also talked about possible erosion from stripping the land of trees and brush and planting grasses to harvest for biofuel. One speaker said that taking biomass that has been turned into oil underground over millions of years has become unaffordable and likened the harvesting of biomass growing above the ground to “skinning the planet.”
     Several speakers said they dislike the name chosen by the company – `Aina Koa Pono – which means “good for the land.”
     Supporters pointed to hundreds of jobs promised by the ‘Āina Koa Pono team and the need to relieve Hawai‘i from the importation of fossil fuel.
     `Aina Koa partner Chris Eldridge said the company will be answering all questions that came up during the public hearings.
     More coverage of the public hearings will follow.

A meeting about designating Hwy 11 through Ka`u as a
Scenic Byway is scheduled this evening in Pahala.
Photo by Michael Martin-Neal
A SCENIC BYWAY MEETING will be held at Pahala Community Center tonight at 7 p.m. Highway 11 in Ka`u has been nominated as a State Scenic Highway, following an application by the Ka`u Chamber of Commerce to the federal government. “The Slopes of Mauna Loa” with its large stretches and untouched landscape, was the theme chosen by the committee established by the Chamber to oversee the designation of the scenic byway.