New & Noteworthy: NELHA, Hu Honua

posted in: October 2018 | 0
Cellana’s facility at Keahole.

NELHA Tenant Exits: Cellana, the company that wanted to produce biofuel from algae, has abandoned its six-acre facility at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai`i Authority (NELHA) in Kona. To get out from under its debt of roughly $280,000 in back rent, interest, and late fees owed to NELHA, it agreed to sell its buildings and equipment to neighboring Cyanotech and asked NELHA to approve a request that its sublease of land be transferred to Cyanotech as well.

At the NELHA board’s September 18 meeting, executive director Greg Barbour indicated that Cellana had paid off $100,000 of its outstanding arrearage in early September, reflecting Cyanotech’s initial payment to Cellana in anticipation of NELHA board approval of the sublease transfer. A condition of the sale of Cellana assets to Cyanotech is Cyanotech satisfying the remaining arrearage as well.

The NELHA board approved the agreement. Although Cellana’s rent was more than $11,000 a month (6.216 acres at $1,800 per acre), Cyanotech will be paying just $3,108 a month ($500 per acre). That’s because Cellana was charged NELHA’s rate for energy use as opposed to the productive-use rate that Cyanotech pays.

And Baby Luaus? NELHA executive director Greg Barbour could hardly contain his glee. After lava overran a NELHA site in Puna, where the first geothermal well had been installed and which had been rented to Puna Geothermal Venture, it seems as though NELHA may be eligible for a payout from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

FEMA, Barbour said, would likely pay for the three buildings destroyed in the Puna lava flow to be replaced by buildings on NELHA land in Kona.

“This is fortunate for us,” he told the NELHA directors at their meeting in September. “We had been talking about leasing our visitor center to the University of Washington,” he said, referring to the landmark building near Queen Ka`ahumanu Highway at the entrance to NELHA. Getting FEMA funds “would allow us to build a visitor center elsewhere in the park that could be used by Friends of NELHA. It’s fantastic for them. And it could also be used for luaus, baby showers, wedding showers. It’s really a nice thing that happened. If we can get these funds, it will be something. It’s a long road, but we’re going to try our best.”

NELHA was established to provide land for innovative approaches to alternative energy and, as a spinoff from that, aquaculture enterprises. There is nothing in its mandate or in any of the covering environmental disclosure documents that suggests baby luaus are an acceptable use.

Hu Honua Hearing: On October 25, at 8:45, the Hawai`i Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the non-profit Life of the Land’s appeal of the Public Utilities Commission’s 2017 decision to approve a power purchase agreement between the Hawai`i Electric Light Company, the utility for Hawai`i island, and Hu Honua Bioenergy, LLC, which plans to generate 30 megawatts mainly by burning trees.

The courtroom is located on the second floor of Aliiolani Hale at 417 South King Street in Honolulu.

According to the court’s website, the issues being considered are: 1) “Whether the PUC reversibly erred by failing to consider the effect of the Amended PPA on greenhouse gas emissions; 2) Whether the PUC denied LOL’s due process right to protect its right to a clean and healthful environment by restricting LOL’s participation in the proceedings; and 3) Whether the PUC erred by denying LOL’s Motion to Upgrade Status from ‘participant’ to ‘intervenor.’”

Hu Honua has been trying to win the necessary approvals to burn biofuels at an old coal-fired power plant in Pepe`ekeo for a decade, but has faltered for various reasons, including community opposition and a lack of funds. (Environment Hawai`i has written extensively on these matters. See our web archive at for more.)

Hu Honua plant.


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