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Bonds eyed for desalination plants

KAILUA-KONA — Legislators are considering a bill to authorize issuing special purpose revenue bonds to build and operate solar-powered saltwater desalination plants on Hawaii Island.

The measure would allow the Department of Budget and Finance to issue up to $100 million in special purpose revenue bonds to assist Trevi Systems Inc. and Kona Coast Water in bringing two or more plants to desalinate water using 100 percent renewable solar energy and supply it to customers on Hawaii Island, and potentially other islands as well.

Special-purpose revenue bonds allow the state to offer financing that helps private capital improvement projects considered to be in the public interest. The bonds aren’t state funds and are instead bought by private investors.

Senate Bill 1440 was introduced by Oahu Democratic Sens. Glenn Wakai and Michelle Kidani with Sen. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u) among nine co-sponsors.

The measure was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, which took up the measure on Wednesday. Committee members voted 11-0 to pass it, with amendments. Details about the specific amendments weren’t available Friday afternoon.

It’s now awaiting a full floor vote by the Senate. If passed there, the legislation would crossover to the House of Representatives for consideration.

“That’s another innovative project that we hope we can bring to NELHA (Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority) and see if NELHA can actually lead the world in figuring out cheaper, effective ways to desalinate water,” Kanuha said Friday.

Thomas H. Birdsall, manager of Kona Coast Water and Trevi Systems board member, said Trevi Systems has pioneered and patented technology for using forward osmosis to desalinate seawater using a fraction of the energy of traditional reverse osmosis desalination systems.

The funds raised from the bonds would first be used to finance a plant with the capacity to produce up to 6,000 cubic meters of water per day at a site to be leased at NELHA, north of Kailua-Kona, he said. The company’s already identified potential customers within and near the site.

“This project is very important to NELHA for a number of reasons,” Greg Barbour, NELHA executive director, said in a June press release announcing the project’s securing of $2 million in federal funding. “First, these funds will help get new technology for desalination to market at a much lower cost. Second, we have been looking for a suitable use for the old Keahole Solar Power (Sopogy) site for some time, and this project will use all of the existing infrastructure on the site. Finally, NELHA will be producing a significant amount of water for agricultural use and free up existing potable water for expansion of new projects at HOST Park.”

The plants, according to Birdsall, would also help the state meet its identified need for additional fresh water capacity of 100 million gallons per day by 2030.

“This is enough water — 1.58 million gallons a day, or 578 million gallons a year — to supply over 9,600 people in Hawaii with fresh water,” Birdsall said.

The plants will be powered by a solar energy system, making it the first commercial desalination plant in the United States to be powered with 100 percent renewable energy, he said. Baseload renewable power could be sold to help repay to special purpose revenue bonds.

Subsequent plants could be built larger in size and produce more than 1.58 million gallons per day of fresh water, Birdsall said.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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