Oral arguments this week in the Honua Ola case



The state’s Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments Thursday in Honua Ola Bioenergy’s appeal asking the High Court to order the Public Utilities Commission to overturn its July 9, 2020 decision rescinding a fuel purchase agreement. altered electricity that the Pepeekeo power plant had with Hawaiian Electric Co.

The PUC order, which rolled back a 2017 waiver from the Hawaiian Electric Co. tendering process for Honua Ola – formerly known as Hu Honua Bioenergy – prevented the near-completed biomass installation from being completed. upload.

The decision forced HECO to consider two 30 megawatt solar plus storage projects offering a price of 8 to 9 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, as opposed to Honua Ola’s reported price of 22.1 cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity produced. by burning eucalyptus. wood chips.

Lawyers for Honua Ola and Life of the Land, an environmental group that appealed the 2017 PUC decision granting HECO a waiver of the tender process, will each have 40 minutes to present their case on Thursday.

On February 16, the Supreme Court dismissed Honua Ola’s request for a writ of mandamus – also known as an extraordinary writ – to order the PUC to reconsider its denial of the bidding process for the sale. electricity by the installation.

Honua Ola filed a motion three days later asking the Supreme Court to expedite the appeal process in his case.

In his motion, he said the plant is “99% complete and will provide the state … with many immediate and long-term benefits”.

The document describes the PUC’s decision to revoke the project’s waiver of the bidding process as “flawed and disastrous” and notes that nearly $ 500 million has been invested in the project.

The motion also said the PUC ignored the High Court’s order to hold an evidentiary hearing on greenhouse gas emissions, accusing the regulatory committee of denying Honua Ola’s “constitutional rights to litigation. regular ”.

Honua Ola says his eucalyptus reforestation plan makes the project “carbon neutral” and that the power plant “would impact the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Statements supporting the motion include: Warren Lee, chairman of Honua Ola, who said the company continued to pay employees and contractors until February, but could not continue to do so indefinitely; Miles Yoshioka, chief executive of the Island of Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, who said the economy had “been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic” and that an operational Honua Ola “is expected to create hundreds of ‘additional jobs’; Peter Simmons, secretary of the Forest Industry Association of Hawaii, who said the project could create “more than 60 jobs in the forestry sector”; and union leaders Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, and Donna Domingo, president of the International Longshoremen and Warehouses Union, Local 142.

In its response, Life of the Land argued that the PUC’s decision did not prevent Honua Ola “from participating in (a) a tender for a new power purchase contract with (HECO) “.

The environmental group’s brief also argued that Honua Ola “harbors its own uncertainties,” noting the failure of the 400-foot-deep project injection wells and “a Department of Health inspection which concluded that (Honua Ola) had violated state laws on water pollution by discharging industrial wastewater into project injection wells. “

Further, Life of the Land argued that Honua Ola wrongly “pushed forward to build a project without the necessary approvals” and then declared it “essentially complete” as an argument “to claim the right to these discretionary approvals ”.

Kimberly Guidry and Kaliko’onalani Fernandes, respectively State Solicitor General and Deputy Solicitor General, also submitted a response on behalf of the PUC, requesting that the PUC’s order denying the waiver and its order denying reconsideration of waiver are confirmed.

The PUC brief estimates that Honua Ola improperly relied on the waiver of the call for tenders in 2017 “to move forward with the development and construction of this project” – spending nearly $ 314.5 million dollars since 2017.

“This is all the more true as the 2017 commission (decision and order) was on appeal from August 2017 until the May 2019 decision annulling the 2017 decision (decision and order)”, indicates the brief. “(Honua Ola) assumed the inherent risk of building and spending large sums of money while his case was on appeal and without final approval” of a power purchase agreement.

The court will not render its ruling on Honua Ola’s appeal on Thursday, but Lee said he hoped for a swift and favorable ruling the PUC would follow up on the referral the state Supreme Court ordered some time ago. , which was to do the greenhouse gas analysis, which we did and HECO / HELCO did, we let the parties have evidentiary hearings and then move on. “

“This is a 24/7 renewable energy project, and the longer this plant is not running, the more fossil fuels will be consumed to generate electricity,” Lee said, adding that 33 employees remain on Honua Ola’s payroll for the time being.

Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, said his lawyers would argue that “the PUC made the right decision and that (Honua Ola) is not entitled to a waiver of the tender.

“Hopefully this will be the last nail that ends this project,” Curtis said.

Email John Burnett at [email protected]


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