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Hawaii Supreme Court rules against Hu Honua 5-0 – What’s Next?

Huhonua 2The Hawaii Supreme Court struck down the appeal by Hu Honua regarding PUC denial of their proposed power purchase agreement.

Justice Mike Wilson will be retiring soon and with his brilliant Concurring Opinion, he leaves a lasting legacy. It goes far beyond this permit and clearly states that the PUC has an affirmative duty to address the Hawaii Climate Emergency Declaration and its connection to the Public Trust Doctrine in our Hawaii Constitution.

Hu Honua attempted to limit their GHG emissions analysis to only comparing stack emissions from their biomass plant to fossil fuel generators. This court opinion says they had to compare their emissions to less polluting alternatives like wind and solar.

A Climate Emergency declaration means business as usual is over and the PUC needs to step up the pace of decarbonization.

The Court’s decison also means that attempts by certain pandering politicians are doomed to fail. Because of our constitutional protections and the imminent threat posed by climate change to our public trust resources like coral reefs, these would be struck down.

A better idea, and better use of ratepayer dollars?

Battery Solar WindHu Honua, for instance, has been proposed for hydrogen generation but would need PUC approval. With this Supreme Court decision, that will not happen. Burning trees to split water and make hydrogen certainly isn’t green and isn’t cost-competitive because the energy required is too expensive and very inefficient.

A better idea would be to repurpose the Hu Honua location, and its large utility connection, for grid-scale BESS (battery energy storage) and the addition of solar and/or wind. No trees to burn, no pollution to abate.

The Sierra Club has been advancing its national “Stop Coal” campaign, in which many old power plant sites have been converted over to large-scale battery storage sites, enhancing grid stability at no cost to the environment and surrounding communities.

These cost effective power conversions enhance resilience and grid efficiency, and in effect, provide voltage support that keeps grid power smoothly flowing around the clock. There is also Federal financing available for these projects, generally referred to as ESSA or energy storage service agreements, which serve as utility power purchase agreements, and where prices are locked in for 20 years at no upfront cost and which plant maintenance is included at no added costs to ratepayers.

Large new federal incentives are driving huge investments, so money is now flowing into Hawaii.  New batteries like iron flow and iron air are also bringing costs down compared to more traditional lithium battery storage. In both cases, utility scale battery systems are self-contained (containerized) and ready for quick and easy installation and modular activation after delivery to the site. Equally important, these same modular systems are easily scale up to meet future expansion, if required, and in all cases, can be paired with clean and renewable energy, as in solar and wind power generation.

Lessons Learned

Hu Honua always had an archaic approach to energy production and would have driven customer bills up instead of down.

This Hawaii Supreme Court opinion further  supported the PUC’s inclusion of its cost performance analysis in their decision-making on remand during the latest appeal, and despite Hu Honua attempting to argue the opposite.

From the start, Hu Honua has sought preferential rates outside the mandatory competitive bidding process, requiring ratepayers to pay for power than market conditions would otherwise allow. The court saw through all of this, justice and the public interest in the Court’s decision, which further served as an important environmental law precedent.

It is a great victory and our thanks to Life of the Land, Tawhiri, the Hawaii Consumer Advocate, and the PUC Commission and staff for a job well done.


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