Economic Development Boards Spur Renewable Energy Development in Hawaii

Every municipality has one, but most people don’t know what economic development boards do. At the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit, I attended a talk with a panel of leaders from economic development boards in the four main counties of the state of Hawaii to find out more about how these small business engines are helping the state go green.

Mark McGuffie, of Enterprise  Honolulu, Oahu’s economic development board, framed the problem for economic development in the small business community in Hawaii: “$10 billion leaves our state every year, $4B for food and $6B for oil imports. The state’s GSP is only $62B, and these two costs have steadily risen in recent years, outpacing revenue growth. We need to turn this “export” inward and put this money to work in Hawaii.”

A new transformative mechanism is now in place, according to McGuffie. The Food and Energy Security Act, passed in July 2010, and affectionately (or not) known as the “barrel tax” put a small fee on every imported barrel of oil. The tax revenues go into a fund to develop agricultural and renewable energy infrastructure projects in the state. Projects include the inter-island cable (in environmental impact study right now), local hydrogen and natural gas production, seawater air cooling, local biofuel production, electric vehicle infrastructure, and expansion of wind and solar power on the island, like the Kahuku wind farm on the north shore that currently powers 7,700 homes on Oahu. In September 2010, Enterprise Honolulu organized the World Congress on Zero Emissions Initiatives–launching “The Blue Economy” which focuses on an integrated system design approach for energy, food, health, housing, transportation, waste and water.

Leslie Wilkins, of the Maui Economic Development Board, cited the importance of education. With education comes economic development, as more students start small businesses or become better qualified workers in a relatively short time horizon, helping their companies grow. The Maui Economic Development Board has produced an iPad app, with interactive learning experiences on solar, wind, geothermal and other renewables. The MEDB provided assistance with a 30 MW wind farm’s development, and is now assisting the expansion to an adjacent hillside for an additional 21 MW.

The Big Island’s Hawaii Island Economic Development Board (HIEDB) has its hands in a lot of renewables projects. The Big Island currently gets 31% of its power from renewables, far ahead of the 11% national average. According to Executive Director Jacqui Hoover, HIEDB has been helping local businesses in many ways. One is through a zero waste algae project. By using waste from papaya farms as a source of food for algae, the algae produces oil and a high protein feedstock for aquaculture farms. Currently aquaculture farms have to buy feedstock at a much higher rate than they can get from local farms, so by participating in the project, HIEDB is helping to create jobs and keep money in the community.

Susan Tai, Director of the Kaua’i Economic Development Board, Inc., has about 70 business members on Kaua’i, and is teaching incumbent worker trainings for these companies to help their workers transition to a green economy. They’re also doing a workforce training for dislocated workers, placing them in new industries with strong growth. On the ground, the KEDB is helping Kaua’i on a lot of green projects: testing hybrid busses and expanding bus routes, doing a landfill gas project at Kehaha Landfill, installing an 85 kW PV system on the Lihue Civic Center, and helping the Grand Hyatt Kaua’i do a photovoltaic carport capable of generating 438,000 kWH/year of clean energy, displacing 27,000 gallons of diesel annually.

Scott Cooney is the developer of a new Triple Bottom Line, Monopoly-esque board game, and the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill).

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Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.

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