Hu Honua says outfall issue now moot

HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Construction continues at Hu Honua Bioenergy in this file photo.

Hu Honua Bioenergy will be back before the Windward Planning Commission next month.

At issue is a shoreline storm water outfall that the $250 million power plant being built at a former sugar mill site near Pepeekeo was planning to use as a discharge point.

Hawaii County didn’t require it to do an environmental review for the outfall, a decision the state Intermediate Court of Appeals overturned in January, prompting its remand to the planning commission.

But Hu Honua now argues that issue is moot because it plans to use an injection well rather than the outfall.

The matter will be on the commission’s April 5 agenda, according to the Planning Department, along with a public hearing on noise levels.

County planner Jeff Darrow said Hu Honua is looking for clarity on whether a limit on noise to 55 decibels at the property line applies to operations or during construction.

Hu Honua received a special management area permit in 2011.

The project, which would burn wood from eucalyptus trees to generate electricity, has faced numerous fits and starts because of legal disputes, including with a contractor and Hawaii Electric Light Co.

Hu Honua and HELCO reached an amended power purchase agreement last year for 21.5 megawatts of electricity after the utility canceled the original deal because of missed deadlines.

A separate lawsuit from Claudia Rohr of Hilo seeks an environmental review of the full project. That suit, which names the county as the defendant, is pending in Hilo Circuit Court.

Hu Honua has until Oct. 4 to finish construction in order to comply with its SMA permit, unless an extension is granted. Darrow said it hasn’t applied for one yet. Construction restarted last year following a new agreement with HELCO.

The project also needs to be complete by the end of the year to receive federal tax credits Hu Honua officials say are crucial.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature is considering a bill that would allow biomass energy facilities to receive state tax credits through Hawaii’s enterprise zone program.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Mark Nakashima, is up for a floor vote in the House.

Businesses that qualify for the program receive an exemption on the state’s general excise tax for seven years, plus other incentives.

The program’s purpose is to encourage job growth in economically depressed areas.

Mark Ritchie, enterprise zone branch chief for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said businesses must maintain a specified employment level to receive the tax break each year.

Hu Honua officials have said the plant would employ 30 people once operational and generate 130 forestry jobs.

Warren Lee, Hu Honua president, didn’t return a phone call requesting comment Monday afternoon.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.