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Public Utilities Commission rejects Big Isle tree-burning plant again, company considers court appeal

  • COURTESY HONUA OLA BIOENERGY
                                Honua Ola Bioenergy was formed in 2008 with the aim of transforming the old Hilo Coast Processing Co. plant in Pepeekeo into a biomass plant that would burn eucalyptus trees. The plant formerly burned sugar cane waste material and coal.

    COURTESY HONUA OLA BIOENERGY

    Honua Ola Bioenergy was formed in 2008 with the aim of transforming the old Hilo Coast Processing Co. plant in Pepeekeo into a biomass plant that would burn eucalyptus trees. The plant formerly burned sugar cane waste material and coal.

Once again rejected by the Public Utilities Commission, Honua Ola Bioenergy says it’s not letting go of its plan to open a biomass plant that burns trees to generate electricity on Hawaii island.

The PUC today issued a 47-page rejection of the company’s motion for reconsideration, which was filed in response to the PUC’s denial of Honua Ola’s power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric on May 23.

“We are disappointed in the PUC’s decision, but we are not giving up because Honua Ola is in the right on this issue and we owe it to our employees who have stuck with us, and to the Big Island residents who support Honua Ola’s commitment to provide clean, renewable energy,” Warren Lee, president of Honua Ola Bioenergy, said in a statement.

Lee said the company will weigh its legal options, including the filing of an appeal with the Hawaii Supreme Court.

“We look forward to continuing to show that Honua Ola has done everything asked of us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become Hawaii’s first carbon negative power plant,” he said.

In the latest document, the PUC said Honua Ola and Hawaiian Electric failed to meet the burden to support reconsideration of the agency’s order. It also rejected a request for a hearing.

Last month the PUC voted 2-1 to deny Hawaiian Electric’s request for approval of the agreement letting the utility purchase energy from the biomass facility.

In its denial, the commission said the project would result in significant greenhouse gas emissions, and it called the plan to sequester carbon speculative and reliant on “assumptions and unsupported assertions.”

Commissioner Leodoloff Asuncion abstained from signing the order issued today, one month after filing a 20-page dissent in opposition to the May 23 decision, arguing that Honua Ola had indeed met its burden for approval based on requirements established by the Supreme Court.

Honua Ola Bioenergy was formed in 2008 with the aim of transforming the old Hilo Coast Processing Co. plant in Pepeekeo into a biomass plant that would burn eucalyptus trees. The plant formerly burned sugar cane waste material and coal.

Spurred by two PUC approvals of Honua Ola’s power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric in 2013 and 2017, the project is now 99% constructed with a staff of 30 full-time employees, the company said.

Marco Mangelsdorf, president of ProVision Solar, a Big Island renewable energy firm, said the commission made the right call today — again.

“How many more (Honua Ola) bites at the mango are possible in this long running saga?” Mangelsdorf said in an email. “I believe that we’re coming to end of the PUC’s involvement at least with the focus now likely shifting back to the State and Federal courts. This drama is not over.”

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