The company preparing to open a wood-burning power plant on the Big Island may face fines from the state Department of Health for illegal discharge of wastewater.

An unknown amount of wastewater was discharged from the treatment system at the Hu Honua Bioenergy site north of Hilo on Nov. 9, the health department announced Friday. The discharge came from a treatment tank that held wastewater used to clean boilers at the power plant.

A department spokesperson said the discharge was discovered during a Nov. 20 inspection.

The state Department of Health is investigating environmental violations at the Hu Honua Bioenergy plant site involving illegal discharge of wastewater. Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat/2018

“As soon as management was alerted to the incident, immediate actions were taken to stop the discharge, a preliminary assessment was made, and Hu Honua immediately reported the incident to the Department of Health,” Hu Honua President Warren Lee said in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.

The department must still determine the amount of discharge as well as its contents. It is still conducting an investigation into the spill. The plant could be fined up to $25,000 per violation the department finds.

“While in general, the department does not provide information about ongoing investigations, given the public nature of this case and community concerns, we are confirming the cause of the spill and moving forward on the enforcement process,” said Keith Kawaoka, deputy director of the health departmet’s Environmental Health Division, in the press release.

He added that health officials did not see any environmental damage as a result of the discharge, nor any threat to public health.

Hu Honua is seeking a tax credit that could be worth more than $100 million for sustainable energy. The plant would burn wood, as opposed to its coal-burning predecessor formerly owned by Hilo Coast Processing Power Co.

Company officials previously told Civil Beat that the projected 21.5 million-megawatt plant could power 14,000 Big Island homes and save electricity customers $100 million over the 30-year lifespan of the plant.

It requires about 21.6 million gallons of water to cool its systems. The used water would then be put back into the ground using injection wells.

The $260 million project is scheduled to start generating power sometime in December. It’s not yet clear if the health department concerns may affect the timeline.

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