Hu Honua: Fourteen Facts You Should Know; and more
Hawaii’s Public Utility Commission is scheduled to render a decision on Hu Honua before June 30th, a decision that will likely set the course for this now idle power plant’s unsustainable and uneconomic future.
BeyondKona has provided our readers in depth coverage and expert analysis on Hu Honua; spanning three years and 17 articles (available through a site search: “Hu Honua”). This idle, highly subsidized, and certainly controversial biomass powerplant is located in Pepeekeo, Hawaii Island.
We are fortunate to have one of our island’s community elders, Tawn Keeney MD, a notable physician and who has served his community of Honokaa for over 36 years, share with BeyondKona and its readers his research and insights into Hu Honua: Fourteen Facts You Should Know, and more... one the most important and locally divisive issues in Hawaii Island’s recent energy history.
Hu Honua is a ‘Bioenergy’ facility, almost built, in Pepeekeo built to burn chipped whole green trees and in turn generate electricity. Those trees are the Eucalyptus plantation in Hamakua owned by Kamehameha Schools, Parker Ranch, and the State and County managed forests in upper Waiakea and Pahala.
In the Hu Honua Power Purchase Agreement testimony before the PUC, September 2021, Hawaii’s Consumer Advocate, representing the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, concluded (see excerpts) the following, “…approval of the (Hu Honua) A&R PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) does not seem reasonable or in the public interest at this time.” and “Otherwise, without additional justification, there are GHG emissions, environmental, health, and customer impact concerns that do not support a favorable ruling by the Commission”.
The PUC process to date has illuminated the issues and conclusions specific to Hu Honua:
1. Burning wood (green trees) for generation of electricity is climate and environmentally destructive.
2. The cost of electricity to the Hawaii Island ratepayer will increase significantly if Hu Honua is authorized to sell electricity to Hawaiian Electric.
3. Authorization of Hu Honua will not add to Hawaii’s energy security or self sufficiency as after the initial timber 7 year harvest cycle, the great majority of the wood supply will be imported from Asia or the American continent — trading one of Hawaii’s imported energy fuel production dependencies for another.
4. Bioenergy (burning green forests for electricity) is scientifically discredited and such energy stations will close due to governmental withdrawal of subsidies and support as the climate crisis overtakes the convenience of considering burning trees for ENERGY desirable.
What you need to know about Hu Honua
Fact #1 GHG Emissions: Contrary to Hu Honua’s advertising, this facility’s energy is not ‘clean’. Hu Honua’s Clean Air Permit from the State Department of Health designates that the facility will emit 293,000 tons of Greenhouse Gas per year. This is approaching 1000 tons GHG per day.
Fact #2 Fuel Inefficiencies – It is well known that burning chipped or pelletized green trees as fuel for generating electricity releases 1.5x more greenhouse gas than burning coal for each KWh of electricity produced. The IPCC Greenhouse Gas Inventory (2006) identifies 1.25x greater GHG ‘in the smokestack’ emissions burning wood than coal (the dirtiest of all conventional fossil fuels) . The ‘efficiency’ of burning wood is 26% and the efficiency of coal is 33% in generating electricity, thus calculating the 1.5x factor.
<Global Change Biology: Bioenergy 2017 Volume 9 page 361 >
Fact #3 Dirty Fuel – Burning wood for electricity releases 1.5x more Greenhouse Gas than burning Coal, 2.2x more GHG than burning oil, and 3x more GHG than burning natural gas, per kilowatt hour of electricity generated.
The Greenhouse Gas Analysis presented to the PUC by Hu Honua in 2019 calculates their GHG emissions to be 1.95 tons CO2(e) per KWh electricity generated, compared with 0.91 tons for the fossil fuel stations they would be replacing, or more than twice the level of GHG emissions and pollutants Hu Honua was intended to replace in Hawaii Island fossil fuel power sources.
Fact #4 Trees, Not Sustainable – Hu Honua has proposed that regrowth of the trees that it has harvested will eventually re-sequester the Carbon released into the atmosphere and thereby achieve carbon neutrality. Contemporary research (8 minute Youtube video) suggests that, following clear cut harvest of forested lands (the harvest method that would be employed by Hu Honua), in addition to the emissions of burning the trees, those harvested lands will continue to be a net emitter of CO2 into the atmosphere, resulting from release of stored soil carbon, for as long as 20 years. Hu Honua proposes a 7 year re-harvest cycle.
In a Star Advertiser editorial, Hu Honua’s forestry contractor argued that the stumps will regrow trees as coppice and soil carbon will be preserved. However, Kamehameha Schools, owning the majority of Hu Honua’s trees has publicly stated they will not regrow their forests. No public commitment has been made by Parker Ranch to regrow its trees.
Fact #5 Emissions Impacts, not Rewards – The Government of Canada’s website < Bioenergy Greenhouse Gas Calculator > is the only internet site found which calculates the accumulated greenhouse gas over time from burning green trees for power in relation to burning coal, oil and natural gas. It factors into its results the re-sequestration of CO2 from regrowth of harvested trees or planting new trees.
The Canadian government website allows designation of speed of growth of the trees and the distance of transport of harvested trees to the power generating facility. Factoring ‘fast growing trees’ and 50 kilometers (30 miles) average transport (Pahala, Waiakea Mauka and Waipio rim to Pepe’ekeo) this Calculator shows that, for Hu Honua, the accumulated Greenhouse gas from burning trees for power (including the sequestration from regrowth of trees) will be greater than burning Coal for at least 70 years (best case scenario).
Fact #6 EPA on Trees for Power – Twice (in 2012 and 2019) the EPA has asked its Science Advisory Board for endorsement of its bioenergy GHG neutrality policy. The SAB on both occasions refused the request, stating the “feedstock and timeframe for carbon neutrality must be specified”. Burning harvested invasive species or wood waste from industrial processes would be carbon neutral, as otherwise the wood would decompose.
Hu Honua will be clear cutting whole Big Island green forests in an unsustainable mission to burn trees for power. Burning green trees could, over a time frame of several decades to a century or more, be carbon neutral depending on the time to regenerate the woody mass, plus harvest and transport emissions.
Though it is not official policy, references have suggested that EPA’s timeframe reference for carbon neutrality of bioenergy is one typical life-cycle of forest trees, or approximately one hundred years. In respect to the current Climate Crisis, this timeframe reference is inappropriate.
Fact #7: Not Carbon or Renewable – In order to call Bioenergy ‘renewable’ or ‘carbon neutral’ federal statute and EPA directive requires that any forest harvested for that purpose must be regrown. It does not allow that forest can be grown someplace else, or other forested lands can be purchased to compensate for harvested forest. Kamehameha Schools has publicly stated that the 12,000 acres of forests on their lands will not be regrown.
Thus, Hu Honua should stop calling it’s bioenergy ‘renewable’ or ‘carbon neutral’. As quoted in Pacific Business news, Warren Lee, President and CEO of Hu Honua seems to acknowledge that Hu Honua should not be considered as sourcing renewable energy. “The plant’s purpose was to replace fossil fuel generation, not renewable energy.”, Lee recently told PBN, noting that it is not an either/or situation and both bioenergy and renewables can each play a part in diversifying the state’s overall energy portfolio mix.”
Fact #8: Local Tree Sources Unsustainable – Kamehameha Schools, Hu Honua’s largest source of trees, will not regrow trees after the initial harvest, the first of 7-year harvest cycles for the 30 year contract. No public commitment has been made to regrowth from Parker Ranch, the other large source. No other large scale Hawaiian Islands fuel source has been identified.
DLNR has stated they will plant or ‘protect’ 100 million trees by 2030 for carbon sequestration or environmental restoration. They will not allow harvest. Hu Honua’s wood will come as pellets from the Americas or Asia. ‘Bioenergy’ will not contribute to Hawaii’s ‘energy self-sufficiency’ or security. A forest industry will not emerge.
Fact #9: Ratepayers Get A Raw Deal – Hu Honua has designated that it will sell electricity to Hawaiian Electric at $0.22 per KWh, increasing gradually to above $0.30 per KWh over the 30 year contract. Hawaii Island’s planned and already begun large solar (with storage) installations will sell their power to Hawaiian Electric at $0.08 per KWh, approximately one third of what Hu Honua will charge. As a result of Hu Honua, the Hawaii Island ratepayer will pay more for their electricity.
Fact #10: Hawaii’s Consumer Advocate Agrees – The Consumer Advocate, representing the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, testified to the PUC in September 2021 that over the 30 year life of the Hu Honua project, 58% of the electricity generation at Hu Honua would replace zero-emission renewable sources (wind, solar or geothermal) and 42% would be fossil fuels.
Fact #11: Polluting Supply Chain – Hu Honua will send 5 to 6 logging trucks per hour each way from Hamakua to Pepe’ekeo or from Pahala and Waiakea through Hilo to Pepe’ekeo. That is approximately one truck (approaching 40 tons) will be sent every 11 minutes for burning trees (a truck, loaded or empty, will pass an observer every 5 to 6 minutes). Traffic problems, road and bridge deterioration, and probably accidents will arise.
Fact #12: Water Wasted or Waste Water – Hu Honua’s engineering designated that 21 million gallons per day of cooling water would be withdrawn from Hakalau Aquifer, heated to 88 degrees F, various chemicals added (primarily 45 gallons per day of descaling agent) and re-injected into the aquifer 90 ft. from the shoreline, and that transit to the ocean would take 50 days. This calculates to 1 billion gallons (15,000 Olympic swimming pools) of heated contaminated water in the aquifer at steady state.
Because of failure of the injection wells to perform as anticipated, the depth of the wells was increased from 400 to 800 ft.
At that time the Department of Water Supply wrote a letter to the Health Department Safe Drinking Water Branch stating, “The Department of Water Supply (DWS) has concerns with respect to the Pumping and UIC permits that would allow Hu Honua to proceed with large scale (21.6 Million Gallons per day) pumping of groundwater and reinjection of that water back into the groundwater with select chemicals near DWS’ potable groundwater wells.” “DWS requests that Hu Honua be required to provide, at their expense: 1) Groundwater modeling that includes DWS’ Pepe’ekeo groundwater sources. 2) A determination that Hu Honua’s pumping and UIC process will not have adverse impacts on the quantity and quality of DWS’ nearby sources. 3) A Monitoring plan for tracking water level and detecting select contaminants at DWS’ nearby sources.” A subsequent letter reiterated those concerns and broadened stipulations.
Though Hu Honua has deepened their wells, first to 800 ft. and now to 1200 ft, no public presentation of engineering plans or the above requested modeling have been made available to the public. Still 21 million gpd (equivalent to the basal outflow of Waipio Valley) will be pumped and heated through this facility and re-injected. The above stipulations from DWS must be enforced and made public. The Maui Wastewater US Supreme Court ruling demands that an NPDES study be performed to ensure no deterioration of the nearshore marine environment.
Fact #13: Trading Trees-for-Power Fails Original Expectations – The current drift in biomass policy and media discussions suggests, because of the reasons pointed out by the 500 scientists, that within the next several years all subsidies and RPS considerations of biomass as carbon neutral will be withdrawn.
From National Geographic, November, 2021, we find the following statement under the Tagline: “As world leaders pledge more action on climate change, one so-called solution—burning trees for electricity—could undermine progress.” That statement: “In the European Union’s “Fit for 55” framework for reducing emissions by 55 percent by 2030, biomass energy is still labeled as carbon neutral. But in a report published in 2018, the U.K.’s (the world’s largest per capita user of bioenergy) Committee on Climate Change said biomass energy should be limited. The country has contracts extending subsidies through 2027, but when they end, the committee discouraged further use.”
The unfolding realities of the climate crisis will overtake the convenient economic considerations of bioenergy as Greenhouse Gas neutral. Subsidies will be withdrawn. This will lead to closure of most, if not all, bioenergy stations.
Fact #14: A Community United in its Opposition to Hu Honua – The following public organizations are in opposition to Hawaii’s first proposed Bioenergy (green tree burning) facility, Hu Honua.
In stated opposition are
- Sierra Club (Hawaii Chapter), Sierra Club (Moku Loa Group),
- Surfrider Foundation, Olohana Foundation,
- Partnership for Policy Integrity,
- Pepeekeo Fisherman’s Association,
- North Hawaii Action Network,
- Na Kupuna O Moku O Keawe,
- Life of the Land,
- Hawaii Island Citizen’s Climate Lobby,
- Hui Aloha Aina,
- Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action,
- Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hamakua, Environmental Caucus (Democratic Party of Hawaii),
- Climate Reality Project,
- Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Division of Consumer Advocacy (‘Consumer Advocate’),
- the Democratic Party of Hawaii and more.
In May, 2018 the State Democratic Party overwhelmingly passed Resolution ENV: 2018-08: “Resolved, That The Democratic Party of Hawai’i urges the Public Utilities Commission, all elected and appointed officials of the State of Hawai’i and its various counties to withdraw support for Hu Honua Bioenergy, and any successors, which will have irreversible and deleterious consequences for the state’s coastal waters and the planet’s atmosphere;”
After years of litigation, public testimony and lawsuits… it isn’t over yet…
The Hu Honua story has been a long and winding road and exemplified by propositions, applications, questionable agreements, and certainly accompanied by a contentious multi-year history of lawsuits and hearings before Hawaii’s PUC and the state’s court system.
Life of Land’s recent intervenor submission before the PUC summed up Hu Honua’s application-to-proceed this way:
“The long and litigious history of the Hu Honua project is characterized by the competing interests of a mysterious and powerful corporate entity and those of the ratepayers and people of Hawai‘i. On one hand, Hu Honua is seeking to force through the approval of an expensive power-purchase agreement (“PPA”) for a 19th century-era wood-burning technology that will deplete and pollute Hawai‘i’s natural resources and increase the cost of electricity for the people of Hawai‘i Island, all in the name of corporate profits.
On the other hand, the HELCO ratepayers and the public interest of the people of Hawai‘i are being protected by a robust framework of environmental laws and the reasoned analysis of the Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission. As Hawai‘i (and the world) confront the escalating climate emergency, these laws, and the agencies and entities that wield them, represent the main arbiter tasked with balancing the complex and often competing needs that constitute the “public interest.”
We live at a time when there is no room for compromise in our fight to preserve our environment and our species. Climate Change has become ‘Code Red’. It is the judgment of science, our environmentalists and, slowly, leadership that burning green trees for generation of electricity is climate and environmentally destructive.
The problems of burning trees-for-power are not confined to Hawaii
The following are excerpts from a letter signed by 500 expert scientists in Feb. 2021 to leaders of the US, EU, Japan and Korea regarding Bioenergy: See letter here.
(Please access the above link to see this entire letter and the impressive credentials of the signatories, which includes a former chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, US National medal of Science winner, President of the European Academies of Science, Lead author of 5 IPCC technical reports on bioenergy, etc.)
“The undersigned scientists and economists commend each of you for the ambitious goals you have announced for the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Forest preservation and restoration should be key tools for achieving this goal and simultaneously helping to address our global biodiversity crisis. We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy.”
“In recent years, there has been a misguided move to cut down whole trees or to divert large portions of stem wood for bioenergy, releasing carbon that would otherwise stay locked up in forests.”
“The result of this additional wood harvest is a large initial increase in carbon emissions …. As numerous studies have shown, this burning of wood will increase warming for decades to centuries. That is true even when the wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.”
“Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.”
“Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false solution is replacing real carbon reductions. Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming.”