A proposed biofuels plant on the Big Island scored a victory Tuesday, with the state agency tasked with protecting consumer interests giving it its seal of approval.

The Consumer Advocate, which is tasked with advising the state Public Utilities Commission on utility cases, filed documents Tuesday indicating that it did “not object” to the approval of a contract between Aina Koa Pono and Hawaiian Electric Co.

The Consumer Advocate’s position is a positive sign for Aina Koa Pono, which announced a deal to sell 16 million gallons of biofuel to the electric utility in January. The contract has since been plagued by public concerns with the cost of the fuel, and the potential impact that the new technology could have on the environment. Residents have also raised objections about the effects that the plant, and trucks, could have on property values, traffic and the serenity of the town. The company has worked to alleviate concerns.

On the flip side, the project has attracted strong support from local unions and residents for its potential to create jobs and aid the local economy in the Kau region of the Big Island which has struggled since the demise of sugarcane. The biofuels plant is expected to create 400 construction jobs and 100 permanent plant jobs. And supporters argue that while the cost of the fuel may be higher than other renewable energy sources, locally-produced biofuels keep dollars from going out of state, and biofuels could be a catalyst for bolstering agriculture.

Aina Koa Pono’s proposed biofuel plant would use a microwave technology to convert feedstocks such as sweet sorghum into fuel that can be used in the utility’s generators. Company executives have also said that the fuel could eventually be used for ground transportation needs.

While a positive sign for Aina Koa Pono, the contract still faces final approval by the PUC. Recently, the commission ruled against a case related to the Big Wind project, despite the Consumer Advocate’s endorsement.

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