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.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ka`u News Briefs March 16, 2013

County of Hawai`i has submitted testimony to the Public Utilities Commission regarding `Aina Koa Pono's proposal to grow biofuel crops and refine biofuel in Ka`u and sell it to HELCO. Photo by Julia Neal
RENEWABLE FUELS EXPERT Peter Y. Matlock weighed in on `Aina Koa Pono this week with testimony submitted to the Public Utilities Commission by Hawai`i County. He analyzed the proposed contract for a 20-year fixed price for `Aina Koa Pono to sell 16 million gallons of biofuel a year to the electric companies. Land for clearing and growing biomass would be  located between Pahala and Na`alehu. The refinery would be off Wood Valley Road.
    In the mid-1990's, Matlock  started several companies applying new technologies to market and social needs, including Viridis, Inc., aiming to make commodity and specialty chemicals from renewable sugars to reduce reliance on petroleum as an industrial feedstock. He  provided assistance to one of the leading bio-product companies making large-volume industrial chemicals in two rounds of financing of $20 million each, product selection and business strategy. He was vice-president of Micromidas, Inc., a California company developing technologies to efficiently utilize waste streams as feedstock to make renewables-based chemicals and fuels. He is an expert in agricultural biotechnology and medical biotechnology. His educational background includes an undergraduate degree with honors in economics from Swarthmore College and two graduate degrees in management science and engineering from Stanford University.
      The following is a sample of Matlock’s testimony:
      “Biofuels and other products made from renewable carbon sources provide great promise for the U.S. and State of Hawai`i. To be sustainable in the long-term, renewable fuels and chemicals must meet product performance requirements and be economically competitive. Although there is policy-level concern that higher priced fuels may be justified to counter the perceived negative externalities of fossil fuels (global warming, price volatility, energy security), there are also policy questions of how high a price should be imposed on individuals and the economy in regions that are relatively early and greater adopters of alternative — and often higher priced — energy sources. This plays out at the national level (will the U.S. suffer a competitive disadvantage under carbon tax or cap-and-trade scenarios compared to China), state level (will California’s AB32 program disadvantage its manufacturing base relative to other states; do Hawai`i’s higher energy prices discourage certain types of economic growth on the Islands), and county level (with an existing higher rate of renewable energy production, what will be the Impact on the County of Hawai`i’s economic growth from higher electricity costs). The Public Utilities Commission’s analysis of the proposed AKP contract places it directly in the middle of these policy questions.
Matlock questions whether it is appropriate to make a
20-year commitment prior to Micro Dee technology
being proven on a large scale. Photo from AKP
      “There are many interesting technical approaches to directly utilizing the complete lignocellulosic material of biomass, and they carry both great promise and demonstrated technical challenges and costs. It is indeed hoped that the Microwave Catalytic Depolymerization technology will prove itself as a commercially viable approach to making biofuels at prices that are not only competitive but provide cost reductions to Hawai`i’s strained ratepayers. There is discussion of a 33 ton per day AKP demonstration facility (installation of the first of many 33 ton per day modules that make up the MicroDee design). The challenge for AKP and the commission is a “chicken and egg” one: whether it is appropriate to make the twenty-year commitment prior to demonstration with a plant of this size, or whether the twenty-year commitment is necessary to enable this demonstration plant to be built.
      “However, current and available evidence indicates the following:
It is simply too early in the development of this technology to commit to a potential twenty-year supply contract;
  • The technology has not been sufficiently demonstrated to confidently anticipate a scale-up to commercial production within (redacted) years, especially given the experience of other biofuels companies and evidence that this technology development is at an extremely early stage for the nature of these discussions; 
  • System design has not been sufficiently described to confidently understand its operations, costs, inputs and byproducts, including potential waste streams and pollutants; Certain unit operations, such as hydrogen generation, could impose substantial externalities (costs, emissions, truck transport of flammable materials), but have not been adequately characterized to understand their impact; 
  • Feedstock for the process has not been identified and sufficiently tested for agronomic production conditions to adequately predict growth and supply impacts in Ka`u; 
  • Fuels from this process using Hawai`i-specific feedstocks have not been made or tested for their composition, so it is not yet possible to anticipate potential impacts on HECO/HELCO infrastructure; 
  • Impacts on the surrounding communities and local/tourist traffic from truck transport along Route 11 have not been adequately addressed; 
  • Economics of the process have not been predicted and analyzed, which would provide the appropriate basis for establishing fuel prices for sales to HELCO; and 
  • Demonstration by the technology providers appears to be limited to the South Carolina facility, which is rated at five tons per day but appears to have been operated for one hour runs at lower capacities more appropriate to lab-scale demonstration. 
      “While eagerly encouraging technology providers to offer demonstrations at commercially relevant scale and duration of technologies to convert lignocellulose material to fuels and other valuable products, commission should seek greater clarification of issues identified above before allowing ratepayers to be committed to a twenty-year supply contract at the proposed prices. To do otherwise is to expose individual ratepayers to prices that are high and may not be necessary or justified, and to obligate the state to a project that is not sufficiently demonstrated for this level of economic commitment.”
      See more of Matlock’s testimony as well as other testimony and documents at puc.hawaii.gov. Docket number is 2012-0185.

Atrazine cycling in the environment. Image from USGS
ATRAZINE LEVELS IN KA`U WATER SUPPLIES are low, according to reports from the county Department of Water Supply. In reports from 2011, Pahala water supply showed a level of 0.14 parts per billion, and the Wai`ohinu/Na`alehu water supplies showed no contamination. The maximum contaminant level for atrazine as set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is three parts per billion. No known or expected health risks to humans are proven below these levels, according to the EPA.
      Higher, but still-below EPA levels, were found in Hamakua water supplies. The reports say the source of contamination is “runoff from herbicide used on row crops.”
      Resolutions in the state Legislature call for the director of the state Health Department to establish a task force to study the effects of atrazine on human health. The resolution, introduced by West Ka`u Rep. Denny Coffman and others, says there is evidence that atrazine exposure is associated with low sperm counts and poor motility in exposed adult men and that pre-birth atrazine exposure is associated with low birth weight and abnormal development of the gut wall in infants. It also says the United States Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that atrazine may have potential adverse effects on fish, including organ tissue disease, disruption to the endocrine and olfactory systems, and reduced reproductive function.
      “Atrazine has been used for decades in Hawai`i to treat sugarcane, pineapple, and more recently seed corn,” and “rainfall sweeps atrazine into rivers and streams, threatening plant and aquatic life,” the resolution states.
      Another reason for the task force, according to the resolution, is that “the Department of Agriculture does not test for atrazine because of the lack of inspectors, and atrazine users are largely left to police themselves with regard to compliance with atrazine guidelines promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency that limit spraying and require setbacks from water resources.”

DISCOVERY HARBOUR COMMUNITY CENTER’s rummage sale supporting the volunteer fire department continues today to 4 p.m. and tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

THIS EVENING’S CONCERT at Pahala Plantation House featuring piligrass music begins at 7:30 p.m. Suggested donation is $15 to $20 for performances by Aloha Bluegrass Band and Keoki Kahumoku. For more information, call 938-6582.

HAWAI`I VOLCANOES INSTITUTE, part of the Friends of Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, presents Life on Recent Lava Flows with botanist Tim Tunison next Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. According to Tunison, the park, with two active volcanoes, may be one of the world’s best outdoor classrooms for learning about the colonization of new geological surfaces, a process that ecologists label primary succession.
      Program cost is $50 for Friends members and $65 for non-members. Student fees (K-12 and college with valid ID) are $25 for members and $35 for non-members. Non-members are welcome to join the Friends in order to get the member discount. Tuition includes a pictorial species identification handout and a PDF mini-book.
      To register, email institute@fhnvp.org or call 985-7373.

ALSO NEXT SATURDAY is Ka`u `Ohana Day, when participants explore Palm Trail at Kahuku Unit of Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park by GPS and compass from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The free event includes lunch and cultural craft demonstrations. Call 985-6019 to pre-register.