Lanai to become eco-lab that runs on solar, billionaire Ellison promises

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HONOLULU, Hawaii — Four months after snapping up nearly the entire island of Lanai, billionaire Larry Ellison has presented his vision of paradise: an eco-lab based on solar power, with electric cars replacing gas guzzlers and sea water transformed into fresh water for an organic farm export industry.

Ellison, CEO of the business software firm Oracle, bought 98 percent of the 141-square-mile Lanai from billionaire David Murdock in June, reportedly for around $500 million.

The Lanai holdings include two resorts and golf courses, commercial and residential structures and vast acres of former pineapple fields that now rest undeveloped.

Since the purchase, Lanai’s 3,000 residents have been waiting to hear what Ellison, who doesn’t currently have a residence on the island, means to do with it.

During a Tuesday interview with CNBC, Ellison addressed his plans for the first time.

“What we are going to do is turn Lanai into a model for sustainable enterprise,” he said.

“I own the water utility, I own the electric utility,” he added. “The electric utility is all going to be solar photovoltaic and solar thermal where it can convert sea water into fresh water.”

Photovoltaic is the more traditional solar technology of panels that absorb the sun’s rays and directly create electricity with semiconductors, while large-scale thermal involves using mirrors to direct heat to run a turbine and thus make electricity.

This solar thermal station is in Spain. Larry Ellison said he plans to bring solar thermal to Lanai.

Electric cars will be brought in, Ellison added, and farming will be transformed.

“We have drip irrigation where we are going to have organic farms all over the island. Hopefully we are going to export produce — really the best, organic produce to Japan and elsewhere,” he said.

“We are going to support the local people and help them start these businesses,” Ellison said. “So it is going to be a little, if you will, laboratory for sustainability in businesses of small scale.”

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