Rob Parson’s Letter on Biodiesel

There’s a difference between renewable and sustainable.

Before we rejoice at the announcement of Maui Electric’s proposed $61 million biodiesel refinery, many tough questions must be asked.The project would initially import palm oil to produce 40 million gallons of biofuel by 2009 and 120 million gallons by 2011. But, palm oil production in Maylasia, Borneo, Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere has been one of the great ecological disasters of our time.

More than 60 million acres of biodiverse rainforest has been slashed and burned to make way for palm oil plantations, endangering orangutans, the Asian elephant, Sumatran tiger and rhinoceros and dozens of other creatures.

The huge scale of the proposal could actually harm rather than encourage local biofuel crop production, which could never compete with oil prices purchased from countries with cheap labor.

Is the goal to refine enough biodiesel to supply HECO’s proposed 110 megawatt generation facility on Oahu? Why was BlueEarth Biodiesel selected, with no track record in Hawaii if anywhere? Shouldn’t fuel purchases require proper procurement process and Public Utility Commission approval?

We should be very cautious of confusing renewable energy sources with sustainable production. Maui would do much better to follow a path of small-scale efforts for local energy generation and conservation and to use liquid fuels for transportation needs, not fueling electrical plants. While limited local biofuel crop production may be beneficial, use of ag lands to offset food imports is a more vital need.

Rob Parsons