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High court denies writ to Honua Ola, appeal of PUC decision still active

The state Supreme Court on Thursday denied Honua Ola Bioenergy’s request to order the Public Utilities Commission to reconsider its denial of a requested waiver of the competitive bidding process used in the sale of electricity.

The nearly completed Pepeekeo wood-burning power plant, formerly known as Hu Honua Bioenergy, still has an active lawsuit directly appealing the PUC’s order before the state’s high court, which is cited in the denial.

“(It) appears that the petitioner is currently seeking relief in its direct appeal to this court … and, in light of the issues in the appeal and the record therein, petitioner’s request for relief is more appropriate for consideration” in the appeal.

Citing legal precedent calling the requested writ of mandamus “an extraordinary remedy,” the court wrote it won’t issue one “unless the petitioner demonstrates a clear and indisputable right to relief and a lack of alternative means to redress adequately the alleged wrong or obtain the requested action.”

The petition asked the Supreme Court to order the PUC to promptly conduct an evidentiary hearing and consider the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in connection with Honua Ola’s amended power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric, formerly Hawaii Electric Light Co.

The purchase agreement, approved by the PUC in 2017, was sent back to the commission for reconsideration by a 5-0 decision by the state Supreme Court after an appeal by the environmental group, Life of the Land. The high court agreed that the panel didn’t “explicitly consider” the reduction of greenhouse gases, as required by law.

On July 9, the PUC used another metric to effectively nix the purchase agreement — cost, nullifying a previously granted waiver from the competitive bidding process to Hawaiian Electric for Honua Ola’s electricity, saying the waiver wasn’t in the public’s economic interest.

The decision pointed to two recently approved Big Island solar-plus-storage projects that could produce 30 megawatts of power with battery storage capability of 120 megawatts at 8 to 9 cents per kilowatt hour, as opposed to Honua Ola’s projected average of 22 cents per kilowatt hour over a 30-year period.

However, the July order was without prejudice, which would allow the Honua Ola to continue seeking a power purchase agreement based on competitive bidding.

Honua Ola’s appeal, still active, argues its method of electrical production is carbon neutral, as trees are replanted, and that its technology is a more reliable 24/7 producer of power than solar.

The company also argues that the PUC’s decision regarding the 21.5-megawatt biomass plant resulted in “killing the renewable energy project and eliminating more than 200 jobs.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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