Hawaiʻi Supreme Court Round 2 on Hu Honua Biomass

By Steve Holmes

While the spin machine for Hu Honua Biomass would have you believe that a recent Hawaiʻi Supreme Court decision was a great victory for them, that really isn’t the full story.

Justice Michael Wilson, in a concurring opinion for the majority makes it clear, that the Public Utilities Commission may still decline a waiver from the competitive process that Hu Honua had sought. The court decision was more a form of legal housekeeping that clarifies an earlier ruling. Public Utilities Commission attorneys have the ability under current regulations to issue a new waiver denial they just need to change the justification. It is the stuff only attorneys love.

Back in 2006, the Public Utilities Commission adopted a competitive bidding framework under administrative rules that have the effect of law. Waivers are really obsolete now. The intent is to get ratepayers the best deal for electricity. Waivers are anti-competitive and not in the public interest.

Hu Honua simply cannot compete in the current energy marketplace. Burning trees for fuel is highly inefficient. Prices for solar and batteries have dramatically dropped making them the better choice.

When the Public Utilities Commission re-issues its new waiver denial in accordance with their rules, it will send a message to Puna Geothermal which also seeks the special treatment of a waiver. They, too, are not competitive.

With no open competitive bids for additional renewables, both Hu Honua and Puna Geothermal Venture efforts to get special treatment actually leave them with no opportunity until another round opens up and even then it is highly unlikely that they will succeed.

In the meantime, two solar farms on the Big Island with 60 MW of capacity and massive battery storage have been approved and are moving quickly to start construction. Another larger solar farm at 60 MW went through Phase 2 competition and is awaiting approval. So we will be moving to 100% renewables and can look forward to reduced costs for electricity.

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