Planning commission to take up Hu Honua shoreline impacts

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Construction continues at Hu Honua Bioenergy in this file photo.

HILO — Hu Honua Bioenergy will be back before the Windward Planning Commission next month.

At issue is a shoreline storm water outfall that the $250 million power plant being built at a former sugar mill site near Pepeekeo was planning to use as a discharge point.


Hawaii County didn’t require it to do an environmental review for the outfall, a decision the state Intermediate Court of Appeals overturned in January, prompting its remand to the planning commission.

But Hu Honua now argues that issue is moot because it plans to use an injection well rather than the outfall.

The matter will be on the commission’s April 5 agenda, according to the Planning Department, along with a public hearing on noise levels.

County planner Jeff Darrow said Hu Honua is looking for clarity on whether a limit on noise to 55 decibels at the property line applies to operations or during construction.

Hu Honua received a special management area permit in 2011.

The project, which would burn wood from eucalyptus trees to generate electricity, has faced numerous fits and starts because of legal disputes, including with a contractor and Hawaii Electric Light Co.

Hu Honua and HELCO reached an amended power purchase agreement last year for 21.5 megawatts of electricity after the utility canceled the original deal because of missed deadlines.

A separate lawsuit from Claudia Rohr of Hilo seeks an environmental review of the full project. That suit, which names the county as the defendant, is pending in Hilo Circuit Court.

Hu Honua has until Oct. 4 to finish construction in order to comply with its SMA permit, unless an extension is granted. Darrow said it hasn’t applied for one yet. Construction restarted last year following a new agreement with HELCO.

The project also needs to be complete by the end of the year to receive federal tax credits Hu Honua officials say are crucial.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature is considering a bill that would allow biomass energy facilities to receive state tax credits through Hawaii’s enterprise zone program.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Mark Nakashima, is up for a floor vote in the House.

Businesses that qualify for the program receive an exemption on the state’s general excise tax for seven years, plus other incentives.

The program’s purpose is to encourage job growth in economically depressed areas.

Mark Ritchie, enterprise zone branch chief for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said businesses must maintain a specified employment level to receive the tax break each year.

Hu Honua officials have said the plant would employ 30 people once operational and generate 130 forestry jobs.


Warren Lee, Hu Honua president, didn’t return a phone call requesting comment Monday afternoon.

Email Tom Callis at

  1. Bill Bugbee March 6, 2018 7:52 am Reply

    Tell your representatives to vote NO on HB 584 HD1, a bill that will in effect, subsidize and expand Hawaii’s participation in biomass energy facilities. This bill is another example of poor politics replacing common sense in promoting the least desirable and totally unnecessary replacement for fossil fuel power generation.

    There seems little political will on Oahu to engage in the much needed work to reform Hawaii’s current “all-in” RPS renewable energy policy – a statewide energy policy that qualifies both dirty and clean energy replacements for fossil fuels.

    The Hu Honua Bioenergy facility here on Big Island is an excellent example of what’s wrong with the current allowable renewable energy sources under the state’s RPS. Solar, wind, combined with multiple on-island energy storage options are available today to address both on-demand and grid load-balancing requirements, and offer greater reliability and resiliency. The Hu Honua-HELCO partnership was a bad deal from the start for both ratepayers and Hawaii’s taxpayers, and carries with it an unnecessary high environmental price tag for energy.

    The public subsidy of biomass facilities is neither sustainable, green, nor cost-effective. In the case of the Hu Honua Bioenergy facility, burning trees for power is not only unnecessary, it’s just wrong-headed and poses health and environmental threats to area residents of Hawai’i Island from airborne pollutants and GHG biomass emissions.

    Yet, biomass power schemes continue to be promoted and advanced in Hawaii’s legislature, backed and funded by special interests. Rep. Mark Nakashima’s proposed HB 584 is the latest example of enacting policies that purport to support Hawaii’s transition to a clean energy economy and do the opposite.

    If it burns, it pollutes — and very the basis of biofuels for electricity production is burning and creating harmful by-products in the form of airborne emissions (both GHG and other air pollutants), along with the disposal of waste by-products into the ground and water – something very far from caring for Hawaii’s ‘Aina.

  2. paul March 6, 2018 5:18 pm Reply

    biomass on the islands????someone is getting bought off..ops..payola..ops …corrupted….focus on solar,its the most available for Christ sake…does it take a genius to figure this out?????

  3. onceawarrior March 6, 2018 9:02 pm Reply

    It is almost self evident that a $250M power plant will have project impacts that need to be disclosed in an environmental impact report.
    The lead agency, whether HELCO or the County of Hawaii, would try to comply with the environmental laws with the lowest level document.
    That would be categorical exemption or negative declaration. If that happens, there would be no full disclosure of who the beneficiaries and the payees, beside rate payers, are..
    There will be reference that the users will pay for development and operation of the facility. Hidden costs may be passed on to taxpayers.
    Impacts to the physical environment can be mitigated. Social costs to the residents would not be mitigated.

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