As expected, the company that owns the embattled Hu Honua biomass plant on the Big Island is taking its fight to fire up back to court.

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Honua Ola Bioenergy filed an appeal with the Hawaii Supreme Court on Wednesday after the Public Utilities Commission rejected an amended power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric Co.

After protracted regulatory proceedings spanned years, the PUC finally closed the docket on Hu Honua on June 24, rejecting motions for reconsideration by Hu Honua and Hawaiian Electric.

The commission said, in essence, that it stands by its earlier conclusion that the tree-burning plant would not serve the public interest. It cited significant greenhouse gas emissions, doubts about carbon sequestration plans and high-cost electricity consumers would be forced to pay over the 30-year life cycle of the project.

Hu Honua contends that the project would be carbon neutral because the company would plant more trees than it would burn.

Hu Honua Biomass Plant with stacked eucalyptus wood that might eventually be chipped and used as fuel. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

“For the past three years, a majority of the PUC commissioners, led by the PUC’s outgoing chair, worked tirelessly toward a preordained result: ensuring that Hu Honua’s half-billion-dollar renewable energy project, which is 99% complete, never goes online,” Hu Honua lawyers said in their appeal to the high court.

The appeal describes the PUC’s rejection of the plant as misguided and illegal.

Hu Honua has a strong case based on the law and evidence in the docket, as well as the fact that the PUC twice earlier has approved power purchase agreements with Hawaiian Electric, according to the company’s president.

“We have met the burden for approval to begin operations by presenting an extensive record of objective evidence, facts, and analysis that is consistent with the requirements established by the Hawaii Supreme Court,” Warren Lee said in a news release.

The company’s appeal asks the high court to vacate and reverse the PUC decision and return the matter to the commission for future proceedings.

A new PUC commissioner will join the quasi-judicial body starting on Friday as Chair Jay Griffin’s last day on the job is June 30. The extent to which the new commissioner, Naomi Kuwaye, will change the direction of the three-member commission is unknown.

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