More than 30 Hawaii Island officials in government and labor gathered this morning at Hu Honua Bioenergy (HHB) in Pepeekeo for a briefing on the biomass project’s status.
Hu Honua spokesperson Harold “Rob” Robinson said yesterday’s filing with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requests that the regulatory body conduct a technical review of the actions surrounding Hawaii Electric Light Company’s (HELCO) termination of the power purchase agreement (PPA).
Robinson, a member of Hu Honua’s board of managers, and president of Island Bioenergy, the parent of HHB, said for more than a year, HELCO delayed meaningful response to Hu Honua’s repeated requests for milestone extensions and reduced pricing proposals.
“We have provided the utility with a pricing proposal that significantly reduces HELCO’s costs,” said Robinson. “More importantly, we believe Hu Honua will provide a hedge against rising oil prices, which have historically whipsawed Hawaii Island consumers.”
Hu Honua has invested $137 million to date in the biomass-to-energy facility and has secured an additional $125 million to complete the project. All that’s needed is an extension of the PPA, which Robinson said, we are trying to negotiate with HELCO but are concerned they are stalling a decision.
“The public should know that despite what HELCO claims, Hu Honua’s proposals will deliver value to ratepayers,” said Robinson. “Our project will have more than 200 workers on site during construction. After completion, the community will benefit from more than 180 new jobs and the formation of an invigorated forestry industry. There will also be environmental benefits when old HELCO power plants are deactivated and replaced with renewable energy from Hu Honua in 2017.”
During the conference, various government officials expressed support for the project and welcomed the creation of additional jobs and industry for Hawaii Island. Many were hopeful that the utility would work with Hu Honua to amend its PPA.
Valerie Poindexter, Hawaii County councilmember for the district, talked about growing up in a sugar plantation camp and the demise of the island’s sugar industry. “Hu Honua would revitalize the culture and lifestyle of the sugar days, and create jobs so people don’t have to travel so far to work.”
State Senator Kaialii Kahele touched on the importance of energy security. “If a catastrophic event happens on the West Coast, we’re stuck because we are out here in the middle Pacific, heavily reliant on fossil fuels and food imports. We must come up with creative solutions to address those issues,” said Kahele. He stressed that while he welcomed mainland investment, any and all development must be done the pono way, and commended Hu Honua’s new collaborative, collective style of leadership.
Hawaii County Councilmember Dennis Onishi said Hu Honua would help reduce energy costs and put more renewable energy on the grid. Onishi suggested starting a dialogue between the County and Hu Honua to explore the possibility of processing green waste streams to divert what’s going to landfills.
Robinson explained that significant investment made in emissions control equipment, including a new turbine generator, will result in increased efficiencies, generating capacity and cleaner emissions.
Following the event, Robinson addressed a statement issued by Hawaii Electric Light Company that criticized Hu Honua. “The utility’s reference to the cost of the project is a smokescreen. When a utility builds a power plant, that cost is passed to ratepayers. This is not the case for us. We decided to invest in increasing generation capacity from 21 to 36 megawatts, but that has no impact on the price to consumers or the ratepayer. The financial risk of the project cost is ours,” he said.