Lee Jakeway – Sugar & Energy a Potent Blend
By Susan Halas
Lee Jakeway is director of energy development and planning for HC&S.
With over 30 years in sugar, hands-on experience in power generation plus a solid grasp of agricultural engineering he is the point man for the company’s expansion plans in renewable energy.
The Michigan native has been with HC&S since 1999, when he joined the company “to be involved in power plant operations and other special projects.”
But, his roots in the industry go back quite a bit further.
He got his engineering degree from Michigan State in 1975 and later earned an MS in agricultural engineering from the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture at Manoa in 1977.
His first assignment was research for the Hawaii Sugar Planters’ Association experimental station.
He recalled when he began at HSPA in 1980 there were 13 functioning sugar factories in the state and sugar production was over a million tons annually.
Now HC&S is the last functioning plantation in the state and production today is about 20% of what it was then.
Sugar Produced More Power Than Needed for Its Own Operations
At that time too in Hawaii, the sugar growers produced a substantial amount of power to run their own operations and sold the excess. “Kauai met more than 50% of its energy needs that way,” he recalled.
As the years went by, his interest in the energy side of sugar (whose by-products have long been burned to generate electricity) led him to international consulting contracts overseas with a focus on rural development.
He worked first for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and later with the non-profit Winrock International (short for Winthrop Rockefeller). This is a global non-profit organization that addresses rural development and the creation of sustainable resources. His travels took him to India, Guatemala, the Philippines, Brazil and Indonesia.
“Though the mission was rural development, (which included investment and employment), energy development was also an important part,” he said.
He’s the Energy Point Man
Jakeway isn’t the only person at HC&S with an interest in expanding and diversifying the company’s already considerable role in the production of energy. There are others at the corporate level and also consultants who provide specialized knowledge. But he is the on-site point man for a variety of projects now on the company’s radar.
The top priorities are finding new ways to use the company’s resources in a way that makes them less dependent on the fluctuating price of sugar and can show long term profitability.
“Call it Plan B, or call it ‘finding a bridge,'” he said. “we’re looking at everything, including electrical sales and generation, biofuels and feedstocks. We’re looking for partners who want to buy raw materials from us under long term contracts for conversion to energy. It doesn’t mean the end of sugar; it means keeping sugar viable and keeping central Maui green.”
Jakeway was not too specific about the partners, the numbers or the preliminary data. But he was definite about this:
“Renewable energy is the shape of the future; if there’s anywhere it’s going to work, it’s going to work here.”