When it came time to choose, the Kekaha committee of the state Agribusiness Development Corporation went with the renewable energy project that would directly benefit its Kekaha lands and farmers over the one that could have benefitted the rest of the island.
While the committee members didn’t discuss why they unanimously voted on September 15 to lease the ADC’s mauka lands to Kaua`i’s Pacific Light and Power (PLP) rather than to Delaware’s Pacific West Energy, LLC (Pac West), the fact that PLP already had an agreement with the farming co-op that manages the infrastructure there clearly played a part.
Pac West has been trying since 2006 to secure more than 1,000 acres of ADC lands, as well as land from the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and private land owners, so that it can grow feedstock for a 20 megawatt power plant at the former Kekaha sugar mill.
The company also has plans to produce biofuels and is developing a wide range of other renewable energy projects, including solar, hydro, and wind.
“The company’s strategy is to create the world’s first ‘integrated green-energy plantation,’ producing firm renewable energy from a variety of sources for the company’s own use and for sale to third parties,” its website states.
Although the company had the backing of the Kaua`i Island Utility Cooperative, with which it has been negotiating a power purchase agreement for the Kekaha plant, at the time of the Kekaha committee meeing, Pac West did not have any agreements for the lands it needs.
The company had signed an agreement with KIUC in October 2009 that projected the plant would come online by April 2012.
“This project has been in the works for several years, and this agreement represents an important milestone in the process of securing more renewable energy for Kaua’i, and diversifying our energy sources away from petroleum,” KIUC CFO David Bissell said in a press release on the agreement.
In contrast to Pac West’s lofty plans, PLP needed only the ADC lands to make its proposal work.
The company, which is already developing a 10 megawatt solar farm on adjacent lands, focused mainly on meeting the energy needs of the Kekaha Agriculture Association (KAA), while improving some of the infrastructure there. The KAA includes all of the ADC’s Kekaha lessees and has an agreement with the ADC to maintain and operate the infrastructure on those lands, including the irrigation and electrical systems.
While PLP also did not have any firm lease agreements for feedstock lands, it did have letters of support from potential lessors (KAA members) and a memorandum of understanding with the association.
PLP’s proposed biogas-fired power plant would use the hundreds of thousands of gallons of pig slurry produced by the piggery located on ADC lands, 1,850 acres of the wild guinea grass growing on the ADC’s mauka lands, and 1,180 acres of sweet sorghum, banagrass, and/or leucaena on fallow ADC makai lands.
The company also plans to plant native species like iliahi (sandalwood) and koa on the non-arable mauka lands and to develop three hydroelectric facilities along the Koke`e and Kekaha irrigation ditches that together would produce more than 11 MW.
At the Kekaha committee meeting, Cameron Black of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s energy office said the Pac West and PLP proposals seemed viable and Kekaha committee member Bob Osgood said they both had “good attributes.”
When the committee’s Abe Mitsuda asked KAA representative Landis Ignacio why the association favored PLP, Ignacio noted that the piggery, which was illegal to begin with, has posed several challenges, including drainage and groundwater contamination. The association needs to relocate the facility and PLP’s proposal will take full advantage of the piggery’s renewable energy potential and even allow it to expand, he said.
Ignacio added that Pac West’s plans to do large-scale cultivation on the mauka lands raised serious concerns about erosion.
PLP’s plans are also more flexible than Pac West’s and the company would solve a number of KAA’s waste management and infrastructure problems, he said.
“If the seed corn industry [which occupies most of the Kekaha lands] walks away, we want the lands to be sustainable, regardless of who comes and goes,” he said. “They [PLP] bring the best choice to the table. We were not really looking at what’s best for the state, but for the Kekaha lands.”
Mike Yamane of the KIUC, however, held a broader view.
“No disrespect to KAA, but from an energy reliability standpoint … Pac West’s proposal is important to us,” he told the committee.
Despite Yamane’s position, the committee went with PLP.