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PUC hearing on Honua Ola tentatively set for January

The state Public Utilities Commission has reopened the docket for Honua Ola Bioenergy, formerly known as Hu Honua, the nearly completed biomass power plant in Pepeekeo.

The 25-page order filed June 30 is in response to a 5-0 decision by the state Supreme Court on May 24 ordering the panel to reconsider a waiver of competitive bidding the PUC granted Hawaiian Electric for a power purchase agreement with Honua Ola. The PUC later rescinded the waiver.

While firm dates are not yet scheduled, the order said the PUC is expected to hold an evidentiary hearing during the week of Jan. 10, 2022. The hearing would be to consider the issue of expected greenhouse gas emissions from the power plant.

The environmental group Life of the Land appealed the PUC’s grant of the waiver, saying the commission hadn’t considered the effect of those emissions.

The group also argued the PUC’s approval of the waiver denied its members’ constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

When rescinding the waiver, the PUC stated the projected cost of electricity produced by the 30-megawatt eucalyptus wood-burning facility over the life of the 30-year contract would be about 22 cents per kilowatt hour.

The panel’s decision stated the price wasn’t competitive with two recently approved Big Island solar-plus-storage projects that could produce 30 megawatts, with battery storage capability of 120 megawatts, at 8-9 cents per kilowatt hour.

The PUC said it was “not convinced that granting a waiver for the (Honua Ola) project is justified or in the public interest.”

Honua Ola has maintained its project has a carbon-neutral environmental footprint, saying the oxygen produced by its tree re-planting program will offset greenhouse gases emitted during the burning of the eucalyptus chips.

The PUC’s June 30 document said the issues it will consider pursuant to the high court’s remand order are:

• 1. What are the long-term environmental and public health costs of reliance on energy produced at the proposed facility?

• 2. What are the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from approving the amended power-purchase agreement?

• 3. Whether the cost of energy under the amended PPA is reasonable in the light of the potential for greenhouse gas emissions.

• 4. Whether the terms of the amended PPA are “prudent and in the public interest.”

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

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