Hu Honua filed a motion on Thursday asking the Public Utilities Commission to hold a hearing to reconsider its May 23 decision that denied the tree-burning power plant the ability to fire up.

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Hawaii Electric Light Company, the utility that would purchase power from Hu Honua, also filed paperwork requesting reconsideration.

In a 762-page filing, attorneys for Hu Honua said a hearing is justified because the decision negatively impacts the company’s $519 million investment in building the plant and it means “the loss of hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for the State for the next 30 years.”

Other reasons cited: by denying the power plant the ability to operate, it means Hawaii island will be forced to continue relying heavily on expensive and price-volatile imported fossil fuels; it’ll hurt the state’s goal of achieving 100% renewable power generation by 2045; and it’ll have the effect of maintaining high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Hu Honua biomass plant, north of Hilo, would burn eucalyptus and other wood as fuel to create electricity on the Big Island. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The commission exceeded its authority in several ways and the decision “reeks of a general disdain for the Hu Honua Project,” according to the filing.

Hawaii Electric’s filing says the commission’s decision is “unreasonable, unlawful, and erroneous on a number of points.”

It exceeds the scope of what the Hawaii Supreme Court asked it to do when it remanded the case back to the PUC in two separate court rulings, attorneys for the company wrote. By determining that Hu Honua must be carbon negative, the commission established a new legal standard for greenhouse gas emissions beyond the scope of applicable law applied to other projects, and the decision contains factual errors, among other shortcomings.

Hawaii Electric’s filing says the firm renewable power generated by Hu Honua is very much needed.

In denying Hu Honua an amended power purchase agreement with Hawaii Electric, two of the commission’s three members said the biomass plant will result in significant greenhouse gas emissions. They said the company’s carbon sequestration plan is speculative and based on unsupported assumptions.

The majority on the commission – Chair Jay Griffin and member Jennifer Potter – also found that the proposed 30-year power purchase agreement would result in significantly higher costs to consumers which are not reasonable or prudent. And if the utility were required to purchase power from Hu Honua for three decades, it would displace lower-cost renewable sources of energy.

Commissioner Leo Asuncion dissented, saying the evidence clearly establishes that Hu Honua has met its burden of proof. The power plant will result in a significant reduction in greenhouse gases over the course of 30 years and the higher costs to ratepayers are reasonable in his view.

Leodoloff Asuncion Jr. Tracy Wright Corvo

The commission is expected to respond to the requests for reconsideration before Griffin steps down as chair on June 30.

If a majority again gives thumbs down to Hu Honua, the company’s president Warren Lee has said the option of returning to court remains on the table.

In reaction to Thursday’s filings, Life of the Land’s Henry Curtis said Hu Honua’s “aggressiveness shows a lack of knowledge about the place they are trying to do business with.” Life of the Land is a party to the docket and firmly opposes giving Hu Honua a license to operate.

Read Hu Honua’s filing seeking the PUC’s reconsideration below.

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