State’s high court remands Honua Ola case to PUC

The state Supreme Court today remanded to the Public Utilities Commission the issue of a competitive bidding waiver for the almost completed Honua Ola Bioenergy power plant, formerly known as Hu Honua Bioenergy.

The vote was 5-0 ordering the PUC to reconsider a waiver of competitive bidding for Hawaii Electric Light Co. for the then under-construction biomass power plant in Pepeekeo. The high court’s opinion, written by Associate Justice Todd Eddins, specifically orders the PUC to consider the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in its deliberations.

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The PUC in 2017 granted HECO, then known as Hawaii Electric Light Co., a waiver of competitive bidding for a proposed power purchase agreement HECO wanted to enter with Honua Ola.

The environmental group Life of the Land appealed the PUC’s approval of the power purchase agreement to the high court, arguing that the regulatory panel failed to consider greenhouse gas emissions, as required by state environmental law. The group also argued it was denied due process by the PUC to protect its constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment.

The Supreme Court in July 2020 vacated the PUC decision and remanded the case.

PUC then issued a decision denying HECO’s waiver request, stating the high court’s decision nullified the amended power purchase agreement. That decision put the future of the controversial eucalyptus wood-burning power plant in doubt.

Honua Ola filed an appeal to the high court, arguing the remand instructed PUC to consider the issue of greenhouse gas emissions from the $474 million biomass power plant at Pepeekeo, which is 99% complete.

In the court’s decision, Associate Justice Todd Eddins wrote that the PUC’s order rescinding the competitive bidding waiver “flow(ed) from a faulty premise” that the high court’s 2020 decision “nullified the 2017 waiver when, in fact, the … opinion presumed the existence of that very same waiver.”

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See Tuesday’s Tribune-Herald for a more detailed story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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