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HI officials, Israelis find common economic ground

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State officials, Israelis find common economic ground

Israeli-owned energy company Ormat Industries' $71 million purchase of Puna Geothermal on the Big Island in April could be a precursor to future Israeli investment here, economic development officials say.

It turns out Hawaii and Israel have more in common than isolation and lots of sand, according to Hawaii delegates who recently returned from a trade mission to Israel led by Gov. Linda Lingle.

Israeli officials were as fascinated by what Hawaii researchers and companies are doing as the state is with them, said Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Liu was part of a 27-member Hawaii delegation that visited Israel last month.

Like Hawaii, Israel is isolated and has developed technologies to aid in its self-sufficiency. The two states share common interests in agriculture, aquaculture, energy and dual-use technologies with military and civilian applications.

Lingle's signing of a memorandum of understanding between Hawaii and the Israeli government focuses on agriculture and aquaculture research and development. It includes sharing technical expertise and research on a variety of issues, such as water conservation and recycling and biological pest control.

Liu believes Hawaii can learn from the Israelis.

"What they've done with agriculture is remarkable, turning desert into farm land," he said. "Israel is self-sufficient when it comes to agriculture. The same with dairy. They don't import anything because they are isolated. There could be an embargo at any time."

Israel's lack of oil reserves has forced it to seek alternative energy sources.

"Its neighbors, who are oil rich, can embargo Israel at any time," Liu said. "They are a world leader in solar technology."

Ormat Industries is considered a leader in geothermal energy.

The Puna plant uses technology bought from Ormat. The sale is expected to be completed by the end of the spring quarter, subject to approval of U.S. regulators.

Puna Geothermal, which began commercial operations in 1993, sells power to Hawaii Electric Light Co. under a long-term agreement. It supplies about 20 percent of the Big Island's electricity.

"Between the acquisition cost and the improvements they want to put in place, they are going to invest close to $100 million in Hawaii," Liu said.

Ormat is also involved in the geothermal business in Asia.

"We told them Hawaii is perfectly suited to being a base for their Asia operations," Liu said.

Liu also talked at length with the head of the economic section of Israel's foreign ministry, who wants to organize a group of Israeli businessmen to come to Hawaii to explore potential partnerships. The delegation would include Israeli businesses specializing in tourism, renewable energy, dual-use technology and life sciences.

Israeli companies, advanced in dual-use technologies, also may participate in the state's second annual Asia-Pacific Homeland Security Summit & Exposition in November.


Because water is such a premium in a desert environment, the Israelis have become proficient with drip-irrigation technology, which delivers water only to the roots of a crop, as opposed to spraying it over an area or using other methods.

Drip-irrigation methods begun in Hawaii decades ago actually have their origin in Israel, Kunimoto said.

The Israelis' use of greenhouses to grow vegetables was another example of the maximum efficiency of finite resources.

In addition to drip irrigation, a tube placed beneath the plant captures and returns water not absorbed by the plant.

"Water is taken back, sterilized and rebalanced for fertilizer," Kunimoto said. "They don't let it run out, but collect it."

Israeli farms are similar to Hawaii's, with many 10 acres or less.

"The kind of technology they are developing is of a size that fits what we are doing," Kunimoto said. "When we go to the mainland, sometimes operations are so huge, it's hard to transfer the technology."

The Israelis are interested in open-ocean cage aquaculture and the ornamental fish industry, which Hawaii is also exploring.

The next step is to start connecting researchers to determine the best areas in which to collaborate.

The state is looking into existing national agreements between Israel and the U.S. federal government, especially those that offer federal funding opportunities.

The Israeli government paid the expenses of the governor, senior communications officer Lenny Klompus and Vivian Aiona, the wife of Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona. It paid half the costs of several other state officials, and various legislators and spouses paid their own way. No Hawaii taxpayer money was spent on the trip.


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