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Hawaii Businessmen Back Renewable Energy Plan

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Hawaii Businessmen Back Renewable Energy Plan

Environment

Hawaii Businessmen Back Renewable Energy Plan

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Now from the micro to the macro. David Cole is the head of Maui Land and Pineapple. He is an owner along with American Online's Steve Case of about 400,000 acres of land in Hawaii. They want to turn it into a model of renewable energy to help Hawaii wean itself off fossil fuels.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

A big part of the plan: turning sugarcane into ethanol. I asked David Cole why more Hawaiian residents aren't trying to live self-sufficiently like Maire Sanford.

Mr. DAVID COLE (CEO and President, Maui Land and Pineapple): For just about anywhere in the industrialized world, to find a way to live off the grid, produce your own food, essentially determine exactly how light your footstep is, is running upstream. Part of our challenge is to turn this to the mainstream.

BRAND: Okay, so perhaps not all of us want to live in a tent and grow our own food, but on a larger level, couldn't Hawaii be a lot more self-sustaining than it is?

Mr. COLE: Yeah, it seems the wise thing to do. I mean, we bring in roughly 90 percent of our calories in both energy and food from elsewhere. And at the same time, we have about 480,000 acres of prime agricultural land throughout the state that's laying fallow. So it seems that that's a fundamental disconnect.

BRAND: So you're trying to turn sugarcane into ethanol?

Mr. COLE: That would be one feedstock. It's not just about ethanol; it's really about capturing nutrient flows and energy flows and having multiple products that are available here in our local economy. So today it would mean sugarcane, which is relatively efficient - it's been grown here in Hawaii for a very long time, we know how to do it - and converting that into ethanol, and the fiber that's one of the co-products would then be used to generate electricity. And then some of the CO2 that's used in the process of distilling and manufacturing ethanol could be used to feed algae, and the algae in turn could be used to feed animals, then the manures from the animals in turn could be used to feed the soils.

BRAND: The big criticism of corn-based ethanol products here on the mainland is that producing them is just as, or even more so, polluting than burning fossil fuels.

Mr. COLE: Yeah, I quite agree. I think it's - not only is it inefficient by itself, but it's not part of a kind of comprehensive picture. There's no real effort to look at downstream co-products that are - that make sense.

BRAND: You come from a high-tech background. I believe you worked for AOL and some other high-tech companies. And I'm just wondering, does anything in your background prepare you for this in terms of high-tech knowledge?

Mr. COLE: I think so. I mean, the way in which you compete in very fast-moving markets that you see in the high-tech world is through networking and collaboration, sometimes with competitors. And so you just grow accustomed to, you know, forming alliances to both learn faster but also to execute faster. But beyond that, there's kind of this sense that in this modern world, where there's more information in one week at the New York Times than people in the 18th century got in a lifetime, there's a sense with all this flood of information that you could be somehow separate from the natural world. And that's a pretty hazardous conception. With all the technologies we have and all the information that's flowing with us, we've got to find a way to get reconnected to that which sustains us physically, and that means the immediate environment, and it means also taking a great deal more responsibility for the choices we make in our foods and fuels.

BRAND: David Cole, thanks for speaking with us.

Mr. COLE: Madeleine, it's been a great pleasure. Thanks. Aloha.

BRAND: David Cole is one of the main investors in Hawaii bio-energy.

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