State roundup for January 4


Obama to leave the state today

HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama is planning his return to Washington after two weeks in Hawaii for a holiday vacation.

White House officials say that the president and his family expect to depart Hawaii tonight.

The president’s vacation, spanning Christmas and New Year’s, is his longest to the islands during his presidency. He was born in Honolulu.

Obama has spent most of his vacation playing golf and staying in a rented home in the sleepy suburb of Kailua on Oahu’s eastern coast.

He has taken his daughters to the zoo and for shave ice and watched Oregon State play in the first round of a basketball tournament.

Obama also has done some official business, signing a defense bill and a budget deal easing spending cuts.

Woman dies in Kihei house fire

HONOLULU (AP) — Maui fire officials say a 76-year-old woman has died in a fire that gutted her Kihei home.

The fire at the Kanani Road home was reported at 5:45 a.m. Friday and brought under control by 7 a.m.

Fire officials say flames consumed 50 percent of the 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom home when firefighters arrived from Kihei, Wailea and Kahului.

The cause of the blaze is being investigated.

HECO considers wood for fuel

HONOLULU (AP) — A Texas energy company has started preliminary discussions with Hawaiian Electric Co. to supply compressed wood pellets to the utility.

Zilkha Biomass Energy signed a “letter of intent” with Hawaiian Electric.

But a HECO spokesman described the discussions as preliminary. As with other new fuel sources, extensive testing would be needed before HECO could sign a contract to buy the fuel pellets.

Zilka estimates Hawaiian Electric could save 30 percent or more on its fuel costs by burning the wood pellets instead of fuel oil to generate electricity.

The company manufactures pellets from harvested trees at a plant in Texas, Zilkha CEO John Holmes said in a filing with the Public Utilities Commission.

HECO officials said they were limited in what they could say about their work with Zilkha due to a nondisclosure agreement.

“We have met with representatives of Zilkha Biomass. No commitments have been made at this time. It is a promising technology but further study and evaluation are needed to determine whether this option provides a cost benefit to our customers,” HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said in an email.

Zilkha’s Black Pellets are a form of biomass, which is an attractive energy source for HECO because it counts toward the utility’s renewable-energy mandate. HECO has committed to using renewable sources to generate 40 percent of the electricity it sells by 2030.

The cost of generating electricity with Zilkha’s Black Pellets would even be less than burning liquefied natural gas, another option being considered by HECO, Holmes said. Black Pellets would be an estimated 16 percent cheaper than LNG?at the Waiau power plant and 20 percent at the Kahe plant, Holmes said.

The Blue Planet Foundation, which opposes efforts to bring LNG to Hawaii for power generation, welcomed Zilkha’s plan.

“This is exciting to us because much of the conversation to date has been about how renewables are great, but we need LNG to lower prices long term. To some it is almost fait accompli that LNG is our logical future fuel,” Blue Planet Foundation Executive Director Jeff Mikulina said in an email.

 

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