DOH to hold hearing on Hu Honua power plant

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A tour is lead through Hu Honua Bioenergy plant in 2017 in Pepeekeo.

The state Department of Health will hold a public informational meeting and hearing Wednesday on the Hu Honua Bioenergy plant being built at Pepeekeo.

The meeting at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo will address the project’s applications for a storm water discharge and underground injection permits. The power plant site is located on a cliff above the coastline.

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Janice Okubo, a DOH spokeswoman, said public meetings aren’t required for the applications, and are being held in response to a high amount of public interest.

“Over a period of time, we have received a tremendous amount of written comments,” she said. “We felt warranted to do this additional session to provide people with information.”

DOH and Hu Honua staff will be present to explain the permits and the power plant, being built at the former site of a Hilo Coast Processing Co. power plant.

The injection wells will be used to inject water used to cool steam that is put through a condenser, Warren Lee, Hu Honua president, has said.

Okubo said 21,634,560 gallons of water per day will be injected in total through three injection wells.

She said chemicals will be used and discharged into the wells. DOH is negotiating with Hu Honua’s consultant to remove the chemicals before being discharged, Okubo said.

According to DOH, the additives going into the cooling water or used in other processes that eventually end up in the injection wells are: amine, 1.54 gallons per day; oxygen scavenger, 0.77 gallons per day; anti-scale polymer, 0.73 gallons per day; anti-scale phosphate, 1.34 gallons per day; and manganese dispersant, 43 gallons per day.

Lee said Hu Honua would consider any suggestions, but added the chemicals would be heavily diluted. He described them as “non-hazardous.”

“This is not a new process,” Lee said.

“This is not the first steam power plant in the state of Hawaii, much less the world.”

But the injection wells have fishermen in the area concerned since the property is on the coastline.

“I don’t care how diluted it is it’s not acceptable,” said Jaerick Medeiros-Garcia, of the Pepeekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee.

“A lot of people in our neighborhood use that resource to feed their families.”

Lee, a former county Public Works director and president of Hawaii Electric Light Co., said there was an “inadvertent discharge” Friday when a subcontractor dumped water used to clean a boiler into a sediment basin that empties to the ocean through an outfall.

He said the citric acid used to clean the boiler was neutralized before the discharge and filters were used to catch solids.

Lee said less than 7,000 gallons was discharged and about 3,500 gallons made it through the outfall. The rest was pumped out of the basin, he said.

Koohan Paik-Mander, a critic of the project, has asked the DOH and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate.

“The communities of Hamakua, and the Big Island in general, are extremely alarmed by the preponderance of industrial accidents along our spectacular Hamakua Coast, first by the Big Island Dairy of Ookala and its routine transgressions that have wiped out biota in two gulches and the ‘opihi limpet population on the coast downhill of the dairy — and now this accident by Hu Honua,” she said in an email to the agencies.

The power plant will have a capacity of 30 megawatts and will burn wood chips from eucalyptus trees harvested on the island to produce steam.

Project developers are working to finish the project by the end of the year to qualify for tax credits up to $100 million.

Lee said they may miss that deadline due to weather-related delays. He said the project, estimated to cost $250 million, would go forward either way.

Hu Honua also remains the subject of lawsuits from environmental group Life of the Land and a Hilo resident over concerns about impacts to the community and greenhouse gas emissions.

The informational meeting lasts from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by a public hearing at 1 p.m.

The deadline to submit testimony is 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Comments can be submitted at cleanwaterbranch@doh.hawaii.gov.

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A video of the hearing will be posted on the DOH clean water branch website.

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

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