First reported in Hawaii Tribune-Herald | Friday, September 21, 2018 — What’s wrong with this legal decision … just about everything that’s wrong with Hawaii’s power plans for a transition to a clean energy economy by 2045.
On one hand, the state is working to free Hawai’i of its fossil fuel dependency and the pollution impacts associated with that dependency. On the other hand, Hu Honua is an example of replacing one bad polluting energy dependency for another.
The legal decision failure to stop the Hu Honua biomass plant was built on a combination of government failures:
A Legal Failure – Judge Nakamura states the obvious deficiency in his ill-conceived “dismissal” decision…”The court’s view is that Hu Honua’s request to the PUC does not … for example, request approval of any use of land. … As such, the request does not trigger the requirement of an environmental assessment …”
Hawaii’s State Auditor’s recent findings on Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) actions summed things up perfectly with relationship to Hu Honua and similar decisions… “Although the utility regulators are not vested by law with any specific environmental control responsibility, since utilities and their facilities and operations have a tremendous impact on the environment, and in light of the laws on environmental control, it would be completely unreasonable and unrealistic to consider public utilities in isolation from matters relating to environmental protection.”
A Hawai’i County Planning Failure – This is certainly a failure of procedure and policy by Hawaii’s PUC in fulfilling its regulatory responsibilities, however it does not dismiss Hawaii County’s Planning Dept. allowance of the Hu Honua plant, its basis and supply chain impact of continuously transporting and then burning the island’s trees as feedstock for fuel with social and environmental impacts on the surrounding community and the island’s ecosystem.
A State Regulatory Failure – The PUC original decision to green-light the Hu Honua Biomass Power Purchase Agreement was as a supplier source of electricity for HELCO. The PUC’s approval of the Hu Honua plant, in effect, totally ignored the climate change impacts of the facility’s operation and thereby sanctioned the destruction of mature Hawai’i Island trees which serve a valuable and significant carbon sink for greenhouse gases. Once these local trees are cut down and then burned as fuel for the HU Honua plant, the stored Greenhouse Gas (GHG) gases are then released back into the atmosphere, along with out combustion emissions.
Hu Honua is a classic example of the disconnect between PUC grants that allow new power plants to be built and operate, but then pollute and impact an island air shed (in this case, Hawai’i Island), and all the while contributing to the very problem the state’s 2045 Renewable Portfolio Standard (administered by the same PUC) is designed specifically to address.
A State and & County Policy Failure – The Hu Honua biomass power plant is also an example of the legislative disconnect within the state’s current renewable energy policy allowing for both clean and dirty (emissions-emitting) power replacements of current fossil-fueled power plants.
Burning trash (so-called waste-to-energy) or cutting down and burning trees for fuel, or for that matter anything else that burns with a smokestack to produce power, and then results in the release of Greenhouse Gases and other airborne pollutant emissions being pumped into the air is bad enough as an energy policy, while permitting at the same time power plant byproducts that include toxic waste incinerator by-products which can contaminate the ground and water sources.
Solar, wind, pump storage, batteries, microgrids, other clean (emissions-free) energy production and grid management options totally eliminate the need for electricity production that relies on dirty energy, and do not pollute Hawaii’s air, water, and land.
Just because Hu Honua replaces the need for burning oil, coal, or gas to produce electricity does not make it better or right for Hawai’i.
HELCO, are you listening?