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 operational 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.

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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 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.

ROUNDUP OF OTHER NOTABLE BILLS

• Funding for Career Criminal Unit

Senate and House measures seeking increased funding for the Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Career Criminal Unit are awaiting final committee hearings in their respective chambers. The deadline, however, is quickly approaching with bills required to be reported out of committee by March 1, in time for notice for a full floor reading.

The bills would appropriate from the general fund $365,000 in fiscal years 2019-20 and 2020-21 for the unit that targets repeat offenders who cause the most trouble in the community.

House Bill 53, passed the Committee on Judiciary on Feb. 14. After passing a second reading on the floor, it’s awaiting a hearing before the Committee on Finance.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 407, passed a joint committee of the Judiciary and Public Safety, Intergovernmental Military Affairs on Feb. 8. After passing a second reading on the floor, the bill was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, which had yet to schedule the matter as of Friday.

• Establishing red-light cameras

A Senate bill proposing a red light detector systems program passed a hearing before the Committee on Ways and Means on Feb. 20. It next needs to pass a full vote on the floor of the Senate, which is tentatively scheduled for March 5, to crossover to the House for further consideration.

Senate Bill 663, if signed into law, would establish a photo red light detector systems program to deter motorists from running red lights and free police officers to respond to priority calls.

• Protecting sharks and rays

Protection for sharks and rays continues to move along.

Senate Bill 489 passed the Committee on Judiciary on Feb. 22, and is now just one reading shy of crossing over to House for further consideration.

Meanwhile, House Bill 808, is set to be heard Tuesday by the Committee on Judiciary. The bill must be reported out of that committee by March 1, in time for notice for a full floor reading.

The legislation, if signed into law, would make it illegal to knowingly kill, capture or abuse any variety of shark or ray in state waters. Both bills classify the crimes as misdemeanor offenses; penalties would range from $500 to $10,000. Hawaii passed an anti-finning law, banning the sale and possession of shark fins, in 2010.

• Prohibiting commercial aquarium fishing

A Senate bill that would impact commercial aquarium fishing in Hawaii will be heard Tuesday by a joint committee of Judiciary and Ways and Means. The bill must reported out of that committee by March 1, in time for notice for a full floor reading.

Senate Bill 931, in its current form, would prohibit possessing a fine-mesh net/trap and place a two-year moratorium on the commercial capture of aquatic life for aquarium purposes or under a commercial marine license through use of fine-mesh nets or fine-mesh traps. It would also require an environmental impact statement to evaluate the impacts of commercial aquarium permits on the island of Oahu and West Hawaii and cultural impact assessment; and establish a marine aquarium fishing advisory group.

• Widening Kuakini Highway

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means has yet to pick up a bill funding widening of a 1.7-mile stretch of Kuakini Highway to alleviate traffic congestion.

Senate Bill 1517 seeks to relieve the bottleneck where Queen Kaahumanu and Kuakini highways merge and become a state road by widening the highway between its intersections with Lako Street and Kamehameha III Road. When the bill passed its first committee, the Committee on Transportation, an appropriation of $30 million was added.

The bill must be heard by Ways and Means next week in order to report out of committee by March 1, in time for notice for a full floor reading in order for the bill to crossover to the House.

• Authorizing bonds for Kona Jet Center

A measure that would authorize the state Department of Budget and Finance to issue up to $50 million in special purpose revenue bonds to assist in developing the Kona Jet Center at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole passed the Committee on Ways and Means on Feb. 19. It’s now awaiting a vote on the full Senate floor.

If passed, the Senate Bill 652 would crossover to the House for further consideration.

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.

A companion bill, House Bill 203, failed to secure any committee hearings, effectively leaving it dead on arrival.

• Strengthening coffee labeling rules

A House bill that would require coffee blend labels to disclose more details about origins and limit the use of a geographic origin in labeling and advertising is one reading shy of crossing over to the Senate for further consideration.

The measure, House Bill 144, would require coffee blend labels to disclose regional origins and percent by weight of the blended coffees. It would also prohibit using geographic origins — such as Kona — of coffee in labeling or advertising for roasted or instant coffee that contains less than 51 percent coffee by weight from that geographic origin.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 888, failed to secure any committee hearings, effectively leaving it dead on arrival.

• Expanding labeling rules to ready-to-drink coffee

A House bill that would the apply current labeling regulations, as well as any subsequently passed changes to those regulations, to ready-to-drink coffee products passed its first committee hearing before the Committee on Agriculture, but has yet to secure a hearing before the Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.

The measure, House Bill 143, must be heard and reported out of that committee by March 1, in time for notice for a full floor reading.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 894, a companion bill, was deferred by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Friday, essentially ending its march forward this legislative session.

• Curtailing counterfeit coffee

Senate Bill 869, which would require the Department of Agriculture inspect and certify all Hawaii-grown green coffee beans for grade and origin if shipped out of the district of origin, except for shipments of 100 pounds or less is awaiting a hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health.

The bill must be heard and reported out of that committee by March 1, in time for notice for a full floor reading.

• Expanding access to address invasive species

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A bill that would change language to allow access to private property to address invasive species is awaiting a vote by the full House to crossover to the Senate.

The bill would change language in an existing law allowing access to private property upon which invasive species are known to exist. The measure would expand that authority to include private lands on which invasive species can be “reasonably suspected” to exist “based on the results of systematic surveys or reports or proximity to known populations.”

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