PUC, others respond to Honua Ola’s high court request

  • Part of the Honua Ola bioenergy plant in Pepeekeo. (KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald)

The state Public Utilities Commission has asked that a petition filed last month by Honua Ola Bioenergy — which seeks to vacate the commission’s July 9 decision that nullified an amended power purchase agreement between the nearly completed Pepeekeo power plant and Hawaiian Electric Co. — be denied in its entirety.

As part of the lawsuit, filed with the state Supreme Court in September, Honua Ola, previously known as Hu Honua Bioenergy, also is seeking a court order directing the PUC to promptly conduct an evidentiary hearing and consider the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in connection with Honua Ola’s amended power purchase agreement.

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The purchase agreement, approved by the PUC in 2017, was sent back to the commission for reconsideration by a 5-0 decision by the state Supreme Court after an appeal by the environmental group, Life of the Land. The high court agreed that the panel didn’t “explicitly consider” the reduction of greenhouse gases, as required by law.

“Hu Honua has failed to meet its burden of establishing any of the elements required for a writ of mandamus to issue: a claim that is clear and certain, the existence of a ministerial duty owed to the petitioner, and the lack of another available remedy,” the PUC wrote Tuesday in its response to the lawsuit.

The PUC in September announced that it would not reconsider a July 9 order denying a waiver of the competitive bidding process previously granted to the Pepeekeo power plant’s intended customer, Hawaiian Electric.

As the Tribune-Herald reported last month, the PUC’s reasoning in denying the waiver is that Honua Ola’s projected sale price of about 22 cents per kilowatt hour to Hawaiian Electric for electricity generated by burning eucalyptus chips is more than double that of two recently approved large-scale solar projects.

The July order in effect nullified a 2017 amended power purchase agreement between Hawaiian Electric and Honua Ola.

However, the July order was without prejudice, which would allow the Honua Ola to continue seeking a power purchase agreement based on competitive bidding.

Wind-power company Tawhiri Power LLC also opposed and requested the high court deny Honua Ola’s petition in a response filed Tuesday.

Life of the Land also joined the PUC and Tawhiri Power in asking the court to deny the petition.

“Hu Honua’s petition improperly asks this court to determine whether or not the commission made the wrong decision in denying (Hawaiian Electric’s) request for waiver from the competitive bidding framework,” Life of the Land wrote in its response. “… Hu Honua’s petition lacks all of elements necessary for an extraordinary writ or writ of mandamus.”

Hawaiian Electric, however, said in its response that the Supreme Court’s previous decision did not address whether the PUC’s prior waiving of competitive bidding was appropriate and whether the basis for granting that waiver still exists, and therefore should be granted.

According to court documents, Hawaiian Electric also believes that the power purchase agreement should be reviewed on its merits as originally considered after the remand from the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, former Hawaii Governors George Ariyoshi, John Waihe‘e, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie last week offered strong support of Honua Ola and urged that the plant be allowed to move forward and begin producing energy.

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“We believe Honua Ola’s ability to produce clean, renewable energy is in the best interests of Hawaii’s future,” the governors said at the conclusion of a lengthy joint statement issued Friday. “The agreement reached between Honua Ola and Hawaiian Electric that was previously approved by the PUC should be honored and affirmed by the Hawaii Supreme Court.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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