New & Noteworthy: Hu Honua, Pepe`ekeo Permit

posted in: November 2016 | 0

Hu Honua Update: Talks between Hawaiian Electric Light Company, the Big Island electric utility, and principals of Hu Honua, owner of the power plant undergoing construction at Pepe`ekeo, north of Hilo, are ongoing.

As Environment Hawai`i reported last month, the Public Utilities Commission refused to become involved in a dispute between Hu Honua and HELCO, which had terminated its power purchase agreement with the company effective March 1.

According to Harold “Rob” Robinson, the president of Island Bioenergy, majority owner of Hu Honua, “we do have ongoing negotiations” over renewing the PPA. In a phone interview last month, Robinson said, “We’re exploring ways to get a deal done with the utility. It’s been a long process, but we have discussions going on with the utility.”

He added that there’s no timetable as to when talks might wrap up. Ashley Kierkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the company, later told Environment Hawai`i that Hu Honua had submitted a proposal in which Hu Honua would deliver electricity to the utility at 8 cents per kilowatt hour.

“Hu Honua,” she continued, “is not aware of any other renewable energy project that sells, or has offered to sell, electricity priced this low to the utility.”

Is work ongoing at the plant? Robinson was asked.

“There’s some work going on,” he answered. “A number of union people are still working,” mostly doing maintenance. “One important thing is to keep all the equipment that we have and own – millions of dollars worth of equipment at this site” in good condition, he added. “We have a full maintenance program that they’re performing. Also they’re doing work on the plant itself that would be difficult to do if we were under full construction.”

“One of the things I’d like to report,” he said, “is, we’d like to get the plant built. If the issues can get resolved with the utility, our plan is to move forward.”

Financing the construction has been a problem in the past, as Environment Hawai`i has reported over the years. Now, however, Robinson said, “a new investment group has become involved. And that’s why we made announcements earlier this year that said we were fully financed.”

dsc04806Pepe`ekeo Permit Revision: Construction of a house being built by Scott Watson and his partner, Gary Olimpia, just a short distance north of the Hu Honua site has been on hold for most of the last three years after controversy arose over the appropriate shoreline setback boundary and placement of a public shoreline access easement.

Last month, however, the Hawai`i County Planning Department and the owners of the site reached an agreement that would, if approved by the county’s Windward Planning Commission, allow work to resume on the house.

Central to the deal is the relocation of the public shoreline path. Instead of running right in front of the area where Watson and Olimpia have placed the foundation for the lanai of the house, along the top of a steep drop-off, the public easement would run along the northern boundary of their lot.

The plan requires that the Planning Commission approve revisions to the original Special Management Area permit issued for the larger subdivision, which states that the setback for all structures in the subdivision will be at least 40 feet from the edge of the pali.

In 2012, Watson and Olimpia obtained a shoreline survey that puts the shoreline some distance further out (seaward) of the pali. The agreement, if approved, would allow them – and them alone – an exemption from the original SMA setback conditions.

In addition, the redrawn public easement would require that a parcel consolidation-and-resubdivision map, shifting the boundaries of their parcel, the roadway belonging to the homeowners’ association, and the parcel immediately to the north, would have to be approved.

Watson and Olimpia had hoped for the agreement to be presented to the commission at its meeting on November 3, but the agenda for that meeting does not mention the matter.

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