So you’re driving back to Kona Town from the airport or Costco, and you wonder one more time, “What’s NELHA?” Or you wonder “What’s all that solar stuff there at the entrance to NELHA?” Well, have you ever taken the time to drive in the entrance and go look around? You should – it’s really pretty interesting!
First, on your left as you enter, you will see the Visitors’ Center and the Hawaii Gateway Energy Center, which is dedicated to Distributed Energy Research, renewable energy research and development. Keep on driving makai and you will pass all sorts of mystery businesses, some with various sized tanks, some with sun shade mesh, most with lots of pipes and creative plumbing. Well, this is because the NELHA area economy is pretty much based on water. Yep, sea water. NELHA is a master-permitted ocean science and technology park , and it is the world’s only facility that continually brings ashore high quality, pristine supplies of both warm surface and cold, deep seawater 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Contained within the park are forty or so aquaculture businesses from growing abalone, shrimp and lobsters for food consumption to seahorses produced for the marine aquarium industry, medical/health research and production facilities such as Cyanotech, a world leader in microalgae technology (BIOASTIN), and bottled water. It seems that there is a huge market for our ocean water, so companies such as Destiny Deep Sea Water, LLC, and Koyo USA take advantage of our pure and pathogen free deep ocean water, desalinate it, and bottle it and sell this mineral rich water. There are also businesses involved in research on and production of plankton and all sorts of interesting stuff!
Not only is there a lot of solar energy research (and production) being done there, there are ocean research and education programs, commercially and by West Hawaii Explorations Academy, a public charter school.
And you ask, how do these businesses access the sea? The first pipeline to draw deep seawater from 2,000 feet and surface seawater from 45 feet depths was constructed at Keahole Point in 1980. By 1984, it was apparent that the seawater being pumped up for OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) had many other profitable uses. By 1998-99, the Legislature expanded activities allowed at NELHA to include other business activities that could “enhance economic development and generate additional revenues” to support the growing park. “In 2005, the operation of the 55” deep seawater pipeline commenced. This was the deepest pipe in the world at the time, bringing up water at about 41 degrees Fahrenheit, for use by NELHA tenants. Capable of pumping 14,000 gallons per minute of deep seawater in its current configuration, the line is supplying two aquaculture tenants, the Hawaii Gateway Energy Center, all the water bottling companies currently in operation, and those under construction.” Yikes! That’s a lotta water!
Kona/Keahole Point is the perfect place for a facility such as this – It has plenty of space to grow, access to what may become Hawaii’s most valuable natural resource: pure, cold, deep ocean water from a 3,000’ depth, warm surface water, potential energy from a natural temperature differential of about 20 degrees C between cold and warm seawaters year around, low rainfall, a winterless climate, proximity to the airport, and the highest annual incoming solar energy of any location in the coastal United States!
Besides all of these most interesting ventures in that area, there are some very nice public beaches where you can enjoy the sunshine and watch the planes land and take off from KOA – really watch because they are pretty low as they fly over NELHA! Go take a look – and take the time to chat with the very nice ladies in the Visitor’s Center. They will be happy to take you on a tour! –by Jean Gray