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Hoku's plant in Idaho faces power loss over unpaid bill

By John Miller

Associated Press


BOISE, Idaho » Idaho Power Co. told Honolulu-based polysilicon maker Hoku Corp. that the utility could shut off its power by Jan. 3 if it doesn't pay its $1.9 million electricity bill from November.

Hoku, which has survived so far with help from Chinese financiers, lodged a formal protest with Idaho Public Utilities Commission regulators after getting a termination of service notice on Dec. 22.

The company's Hoku Materials unit told Idaho Power that it can't pay its November power bill until January due to cash flow problems.

Hoku says losing electricity would delay its Pocatello plant's commissioning and expose infrastructure to freezing just as winter sets in. Southeastern Idaho's hopes that Hoku's $390 million plant will eventually add hundreds of green-energy jobs to the local economy have been replaced by uncertainty over whether the project will survive.

"If service is terminated, these high-value systems may freeze, causing irreparable and material damage to Hoku's plant assets," Hoku lawyers told Idaho utility regulators in the complaint. "Any damage would need to be repaired, at additional cost, prior to continuing with the commissioning and operation of the plant."

Hoku announced it had hooked up to Idaho Power's substation only in November, the same month it couldn't pay its power bill.

"With the addition of permanent power, we are able to start up the plant," Hoku Chief Executive Officer Scott Paul said Nov. 21.

Now it wants Idaho Power to use some of the $4 million Hoku had previously deposited with the utility as security for its power bills to cover the November charges, according to its filing.

In Idaho Power's response filed Friday afternoon with the regulator, however, the utility said Hoku actually owes it millions more in security.

The plant was originally supposed to be operational in 2008, but Hoku struggled to raise funds to complete the facility as the economy soured.

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