Ellison’s hydroponic farm on Lanai is set to open by late ’18

The Lodge at Koele is also expected to reopen by end of year

Larry Ellison

Larry Ellison’s high-tech indoor hydroponic agricultural partnership, which is projected to grow vegetables for sale cheaper than imported produce, will open late this year, according to a filing with the state Public Utilities Commission by the Oracle Corp. founder’s Lanai utility companies.

The filing earlier last month also said that the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, The Lodge at Koele, which has been closed since January 2015 for renovations and to provide housing for construction workers, will be completed late this year.

The $75 million project is designed to upgrade and “refresh” the nearly 25-acre resort, located northeast of Lanai City on Keomuku Highway, said Pulama Lana’i, the entity that runs Ellison’s operations on the island. Ellison purchased 98 percent of Lanai in 2012.

The project involves reducing the number of rooms from 102 to 94 by converting some into meeting rooms and enlarging other rooms, according to documents filed with the county. There will be a spa treatment hale; yoga and fitness pavilions; a new pool with 25-yard lap lanes and a water exercise area; and private gardens.

Earlier this month, Ellison announced the launching of Sensei with Dr. David Agus, professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and Viterbi School of Engineering.

The Four Seasons Resort Lanai, The Lodge at Koele, is shown in this photo from 2015. The property, which has been closed since January 2015 for renovations and to provide housing for construction workers, will be completed late this year after a $75 million makeover with added spa and fitness amenities. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

Ellison and Agus met when a close friend was not feeling well, the Sensei website said. They developed a friendship and later a partnership.

“What guides us is a belief that knowledge is the greatest tool in health and that technology allows us to unlock deeper insights,” the website said.

In an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last August, Ellison explained that the Sensei project on Lanai would involve automated, computer-led hydroponic farming in large $15 million greenhouses.

The 10 greenhouses will be 19,840 square feet, 160 by 124 feet and 13 feet high, county building permit records show. An off-grid photovoltaic system will power the greenhouses, and the company has partnered with Tesla, a Sensei fact sheet said.

Offices and vegetable processing and cold storage facilities also are planned, the building permit records show.

Lanai Farm will use 10 percent of the water compared to conventional farming and no harmful chemicals in its operations. The company will focus on nutrition per acre, as opposed to yield per acre, the fact sheet said.

Ellison told the Star-Advertiser that maximizing nutrition would cost less than what Hawaii consumers pay for mostly imported food on store shelves. The greenhouses are expected to grow 1.7 million pounds of produce annually, more than enough to supply Lanai’s residents and visitors.

The first crops will include Black Trifele tomatoes and Komatsuna mustard greens, the Sensei website said.

The Black Trifele tomato plant grows to 5 feet tall and the fruit, which is black and pear-shaped, is about 8 ounces, according to a Rutgers University study.

Komatsuna mustard greens can reach a height of 8 to 14 inches in only 20 to 30 days after sowing, a Queensland, Australia, department of agriculture website said. Leaves are dark green and about 7 inches wide and 11 inches long in mature plants; leaf stalks are light green and thin. Komatsuna is rich in calcium and is commonly used in pickles in Japan.

Sensei will use only original seeds. Growing fruits also is in the plans, the company indicated.

Lanai is the first Sensei farm, which will be part of a network of hydroponic farms. Sensei was founded last year and is based Los Angeles. The company president is Daniel Gruneberg, who co-founded Zozi, a travel software company.

The information about the timing of the completion of Sensei’s Lanai Farms and The Lodge at Koele was included in a filing with the PUC by Pulama Lana’i entities, Lanai Island Holdings LLC, Manele Water Resources and Lanai Water Co., on March 2.

The Pulama entities had agreed to spend $10 million on water and wastewater improvements by March 12 and to file a rate application by Sept. 12 as part of the purchase from Castle & Cooke that was finalized in 2013.

So far, the Pulama entities have spent $7.5 million on new wells and renovating existing ones to increase capacity; building new transmission and distribution systems; improving reservoirs, including covering a 15 million-gallon reservoir to reduce evaporation; increasing efficiency of water treatment facilities; and installing advanced metering technology.

“Although diligent efforts were made to expend the $10 million by the date ordered by the commission, it is important to Pulama entities that the investments result in cost-effective improvements to the utilities,” the filing said.

Pulama entities have been working on identifying existing inefficiencies and projecting future needs. In addition, “significant changes” have or are going to occur that will affect usage and charges, the filing said. The Lanai Farms and The Lodge at Koele, one of the largest customers, were cited.

The Pulama entities also noted the expansion of a pilot project of 10 smart water meters in 2015 to 500 meters in 2017. Current plans include further expansion to all residential meters and a “substantial portion” of commercial meters this year, the filing said.

The smart meters identified leaks that averaged 8 gallons per hour in one of six meters, the filing said.

As a result, Pulama entities requested an extension for the rest of the $10 million expenditure to April 1, 2019, and the rate applications to Dec. 31, 2019.

On March 14, the PUC granted the requests by the Pulama entities.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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