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Natural energy research park poised to get $12M

Stephens Media

A hefty $12 million in capital improvement funding to construct a frontage road and upgrade a seawater pipeline could reach the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority as early as summer 2013.

NELHA Executive Director Greg Barbour said the $9.69 million in general obligation bonds requested to construct a nearly 1-mile portion of a frontage road will not only provide access to the park, but also serve as an economic driver opening lots for new tenants and expansion of the research park. The road would slice through the park’s upper 80 acres, which have been zoned and set aside for for offices and commercial/retail complex.

“It’s a huge thing that’s shovel ready,” he said. “If we do get the money, we hope by next summer to put it to bid.”

Barbour said the frontage road, which runs parallel to Queen Kaahumanu Highway, could be complete within a year of starting construction.

Constructing the nearly 1-mile segment is required because when Queen Kaahumanu Highway is widened, the number of intersections with the highway will be limited. In all, the frontage road will stretch from Honokohau Small Boat Harbor to Kona International Airport providing ingress/egress to various sites.

The state Department of Transportation on Tuesday said no specific date has been set for work to commence on the second phase of the highway widening. Barbour said he hopes to get the road completed by the time DOT completes its work.

The funding request was contained in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s two-year budget submitted on Monday to the state Legislature for consideration. In all, the governor requested $12.4 billion in general funds for 2013-15 and about $2.6 billion in capital improvement project funding.

The budget next goes to the state Legislature for consideration and passage. It is then transferred back to the governor who decides whether to release or veto the funding.

Also contained in the submitted capital improvement budget, is a request by NELHA for $2.323 million in general obligation bond funding for upgrades to the area’s main pipeline system.

According to the request, the funding would allow for an upgrade to the main pipeline system to allow warm sea water to be shared between the two main subsystems. The upgrade would install a 28-inch pipe to provide redundancy between the two main subsystems in the event of a failure at either end; allow more sea water to be pumped to higher elevations; and facilitate the development of a 1-megawatt ocean thermal energy conversion facility.

The project has already been planned and is considered ready for construction, according to the request. The OTEC facility remains in the final engineering and negotiation stages, Barbour said.

The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, located at Keahole Point, manages the facility on 870 acres of leased state land. The facility is home to 41 tenants consisting of 29 precommercial research and commercial tenants, four Gateway Center tenants, and eight research, educational and community service tenants, according to a May 2012 audit of the facility by state Auditor Marion Higa.

The facility was established in 1974 with public and private grants in response to the 1973-74 oil embargo and concerns about Hawaii ’s fossil fuel dependence. By 1984, it became apparent seawater could be used for research and other profitable ventures prompting the state to pass laws allowing NELHA to host commercial entities on state property as well as develop the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park.

Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii and the park officially merged in 1990 forming NELHA. NELHA also maintains Wawaloli Beach Park, including bathroom facilities.

An analysis of the area’s economic impact, which looks at how tenants’ expenditures reverberate through Hawaii ’s economy and beyond, was recently completed showing that the state ocean science and technology park’s economic impact on Hawaii alone was $87.7 million in 2010. That figure was determined by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization using the state’s economic input-output model, which captures the direct, indirect and induced impacts of spending in each sector of Hawaii’s economy.


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