Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) was denied approval by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of it’s Amended Biofuel Contract with Imperium Renewables on August 5, 2009. The amended contract would have Imperium import biodiesel from a West Coast refinery to power HECO’s new 110-megawatt generating plant, instead of a refinery built by Imperium.
Costs brought on by this amended contract would have shifted costs from Imperium to HECO’s customers, as it would have to import the fuel from the West Coast of the Continental US. The PUC ruled,
“…the Amended Contract limits Imperium’s potential liability for failure to perform, but HECO failed to provide credible evidence that such a provision, which substantially shifted risk from Imperium to HECO and its ratepayers, was necessary.” Given the substantial amendments to the Original Contract, which were not subject to a competitive bidding process (or some other process that would provide the commission with some assurance that the amended terms are reasonable), the commission finds that HECO failed to demonstrate that the Amended Contract is in the public interest…”
Although this is a win for HECO’s ratepayers, they must also ask themselves if biofuel is right for Hawaii. As stated in the testimony of Henry Curtis, Executive Director of Life of the Land, against the Amended Biofuel Contact,
Life of the Land’s position (on HECO’s application requesting the Public Utilities Commission’s of the State of Hawaii’s approval to commit funds estimated at $134,310,260 for the purchase and installation of the Campbell Industrial Park Generating Station and Transmission Additions Project) was that biofuels negatively impact climate change in a number of ways: producing ethanol and biodiesel requires the use of large amounts of fossil fuels, water, and land. Hawai`i is parceling off its agricultural land and where we would get the water remains a huge issue. Will Hawai`i ever be able to grow enough biofuel to satisfy our needs? Life of the Land doubts it. After one hundred plus years of plantation-style monocropping, is this what we really want to do? Growing biofuels is not about small farmers, it is about big agribusinesses and corporate farming. How will this help Hawai`i’s struggling family farms? Should Hawai`i be using our precious agricultural lands to grow energy crops or food? Since Hawai`i imports 90% of our food, wouldn’t promoting food security and feeding our people be a more prudent use of these lands? Biofuel production competes with food products for resources. In the US, corn that could be used to feed people and animals is siphoned off for fuel. In Brazil ethanol production displaces other crops which are then grown in newly decimated Amazon rain forests. The most productive source of biodiesel is palm oil. Most of the world’s biodiesel is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia on recently destroyed rain forests. … Indonesia ranks third in the world in greenhouse gas emissions from the carbon emitted by burning forests and peat soils to make room for mono-cropped palm oil plantations. In essence, we are substituting the greatest source of global warming – the burning of fossil fuels – for the second greatest contributor – deforestation. …
Also provided in the testimony of Henry Curtis, Dr. Tadeus Patzek, Chairman of the Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin, states:
Now I am predicting the diverse negative consequences of intensive biofuel use in Hawaii and dare the defenders of the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO’s) decision to burn palm oil from Malaysia in an electrical power plant on Oahu to laugh at me. What seems to be at stake here is a tragically misguided decision by HECO to secure a new source of fossil fuel for its electrical power station. Their thinking seems to be that as long as the new fuel is not crude oil, somehow its flow will increase the strategic security of energy supply of Oahu. This type of linear, unimaginative thinking is characteristic of large bureaucracies under pressure to come up with a quick fix of a perceived problem.
Are monocropped agrofuels the fix to our dependence on petroleum, or should be be looking other places such as renewable energy systems? As HECO moves to solicit bids for alternative biofuel suppliers, that question should be in the back of everyones mind.