Parker Ranch launches power company

The same Hawaii Island company known for its grass-fed hamburgers now wants to sell the electricity used to cook them.

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The same Hawaii Island company known for its grass-fed hamburgers now wants to sell the electricity used to cook them.

Parker Ranch Inc. CEO Neil “Dutch” Kuyper announced Wednesday the launch of Paniolo Power Company LLC, aimed at using renewable resources in Waimea to generate power.

The announcement comes a little more than a week after Parker Ranch announced the formation of Paniolo Cattle Company, which would focus on boosting production of locally-available grassfed beef.

Parker Ranch will present the company’s preliminary findings at today’s 5:15 p.m. meeting of the Waimea Community Association at the Waimea School cafeteria.

“The preliminary results from our energy team, led by Siemens, tell us there is the real opportunity to attract capital to invest in our community grid concept,” Kuyper said in a release.

Microgrids are small electric systems that serve a distinct area but may remain connected to a larger macrogrid owned and operated by the local utility.

In an editorial penned in October, Kuyper explained his company has wrestled with energy costs, adding “we see a possible solution in the rich natural resources of Waimea.”

“For the Ranch, energy is our single most volatile cost and it hinders our ability to be competitive,” he wrote.

In Wednesday’s release, Parker Ranch said Hawaii Electric Light Co.’s electric rates are “consistently more than 37 cents a kilowatt-hour, and often well over 40 cents, despite nearly half of the island’s electricity being generated from renewable sources. The national average for electricity rates last year was 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.”

“We think that the residents and businesses of the Big Island could be better served by a series of community solutions with regional level distributed generation focusing on our plentiful renewable resources,” Kuyper said.

Among those resources is wind, he said in his October commentary.

“Our energy resources could be deployed for energy solutions,” Kuyper wrote, “starting with our ranching operations and extending to our community’s largest employer … North Hawaii Community Hospital, and possibly to other businesses in our hometown. We also think that we have resources of size and scale that could benefit the entire Island of Hawaii.”

Among the challenges that stand in the way of energy independence is that of finding a reliable and efficient way to store renewable energy, and Waimea’s hilly topography might be just the answer Parker Ranch is looking for. The company plans to “aggressively study large-scale pumped-hydro storage, given the available elevation change across our lands,” according to Wednesday’s release.

The technique is popular because it allows large-scale energy storage at a relatively low cost, according to the National Hydropower Association — provided the location is hilly enough to let gravity do the heavy lifting, so to speak.

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“Pumped storage projects store and generate energy by moving water between two reservoirs at different elevations. At times of low electricity demand, like at night or on weekends, excess energy is used to pump water to an upper reservoir,” reads the association’s website. “During periods of high electricity demand, the stored water is released through turbines in the same manner as a conventional hydro station, flowing downhill from the upper reservoir into the lower and generating electricity.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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