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Major Hawaiian bioenergy facility at risk after proposal rejection

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Hawaiian firm Honua Ola Bioenergy has condemned a decision by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reject its proposal to provide electricity to Hawaiian Electric Co.

The company says the move will lead to the loss of more than 200 jobs on the Hu Honua project, which uses wood chips to generate energy.

In a statement, Honua Ola said the decision will result in the “imminent layoffs” of 64 current 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. More than $350 million (€309 million) has been spent on the biomass facility so far.

In May 2019, the Hawai’i Supreme Court issued a ruling instructing the PUC to consider the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the Hu Honua facility and to hold an evidentiary hearing. The firm said it had been waiting for more than a year to demonstrate at the hearing that its operations will result in a significant GHG emissions reduction and bring many other benefits to the area.

“Instead, it appears that the PUC has opted to contravene the Supreme Court’s instructions to hold a hearing and to consider Hu Honua’s evidence on the reduction of GHG,” said Honua Ola Bioenergy in a statement. “The PUC’s action essentially reverses its two prior approvals of the power purchase agreement and waivers that allowed the project to proceed and which Hu Honua relied on spending hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The company said the PUC’s action not only rules out the opportunity for the plant to have its GHG reduction considered at a hearing, but also precludes the benefits of the plant’s locally produced renewable energy, a move which Honua Ola Bioenergy believes will result in the prolonged use of imported fossil fuels on Hawai’i Island.

The firm added: “Because the Commission’s decision has just been issued, we are studying it to determine how we will proceed. Understandably, we are disappointed by the PUC’s decision, especially considering that more than $350 million (€309 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.”