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Sugar is Sweet

November 5, 2009
Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC

Some think the same about Alexander & Baldwin (A&B). The board of directors of this agricultural giant seems to be stuck, surrounded by losses and threatened by new water regulations.

While sugar prices remain in freefall, and losses mount to $20 million a year, they have resisted becoming an energy plantation. Some day soon, they will sit together to discuss the fate of their HC&S operation, which is the fate of Maui. The last working sugarcane plantation of the Hawaiian Islands cannot go on as it has for 100 years, but the results of a closure could be disastrous.

Check the former sugarcane fields in Lahaina and the dust that’s blowing into every house. Go to Lāna‘i and watch the grass grow on the pineapple fields. It’s grey and ugly. Go to Honolulu and see the overgrown pineapple fields.

Article Photos

Look at it as Maui’s 32,000-acre solar collector.

An end to sugar means the end of our lush green valley, and the beginning of a dust bowl around Kīhei and Kahului. It won’t lead to a self-sustaining agriculture, because planting in the sandy soil in 60-mile-per-hour winds and blazing sun won’t be practical.

The beauty of sugar from an energy standpoint is it’s highly effective photosynthesis. Look at it as Maui’s 32,000-acre solar collector. Compared to the rest of the world, we have an irreplaceable, miracle energy source in our midst. It doesn’t have all the instabilities of solar and wind, but can be used together with them to provide firm, permanent power. And HC&S already has100-years of experience in growing this plant.

Combine electricity from sugar, windmills and solar, and Maui will have an eternity of stable energy prices, 1,000 to 2,000 additional jobs and worldwide recognition.

Besides the obvious benefits of the cessation of cane burning, an energy plantation would use less water, use fewer chemicals and would once again make HC&S the source of Maui‘s electricity.



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