Hawaii PUC decision damages prospects for Hu Honua biomass plant

By Erin Voegele | July 16, 2020

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission on July 9 denied Hawaii Electric Light Co. Inc.’s request for a waiver of the competitive bidding process for the Hu Honua biomass power plant, a nearly complete 30 megawatt facility.

In its order, the PUC said “HELCO has not demonstrated that a waiver from the competitive bidding framework is necessary or justified.”

“HELCO's recent competitive solicitations have been successful in procuring multiple large-scale renewable energy projects cost-effectively, such that HELCO's requested waiver is not in the public interest,” the PUC continued.

HELCO had been seeking approval of an amended power purchase agreement (PPA) it had reached with Hu Honua in 2017.

In a statement posted to its website, Hu Honua said the PUC’s decision will result in the layoffs of 64 current Hu Honua employees and contractors and the loss of an additional 145 positions to be filled, consisting of ancillary jobs in trucking, forestry and support services on the Big Island. According to the company, the PUC’s July 9 action essentially reverses its two prior approvals of the PPA and waivers that allowed the project to proceed and which Hu Honua relied on in spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

The company said it is working to determine how it will proceed. “Understandably, we are disappointed by the PUC’s decision, especially considering that more than $350 million has been spent on a state-of-the-art renewable energy facility that was anticipated to be completed and ready to commence operations in 2020 and the more than 200 well-paying jobs that would have existed for the next 30 years,” Hu Honua said in a statement.

According to the company, more than $350 million has already been invested in the plant, which is currently 95 percent complete. Hu Honua is urging its supporters to take swift action to contact their government representatives in Hawaii and advocate for a reversal of the PUC’s decision. Additional information is available on the Hu Honua website