The Hawai`i Supreme Court has weighed in on the question of whether greenhouse gas emissions need to be considered before the Public Utilities Commission can approve power-purchase agreements with independent power companies.
And the answer is: Yes!
The commission “erred by failing to explicitly consider the reduction of [greenhouse gas] emissions in approving the amended [power-purchase agreement], as required by statute.”
The 66-page decision, which was published May 10, settles the appeal by Life of the Land of the PUC’s approval in 2017 of a power-purchase agreement between the Hawaiian Electric Light Company (HELCO — the Hawaiian Electric subsidiary that serves the Big Island) and Hu Honua.
Hu Honua is building a 28-megawatt plant in Pepe`ekeo, on the Hamakua Coast a few miles north of Hilo. The company proposes to power it with logs from eucalyptus stands in Hamakua and Ka`u.
The PUC, HELCO, and Hu Honua all contended that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to consider the appeal. On that, too, they were rebuffed. In addition, the PUC was taken to task over its denial of standing to Life of the Land (LOL). “[T]he PUC denied LOL due process with respect to the opportunity to be heard regarding the impacts that the amended PPA would have on [the group’s] right to a clean and healthful environment.”
The matter was thrown back to the PUC for further proceedings “consistent with this opinion.”
Attorney Lance Collins represented Life of the Land, going up against two former attorneys general: Margery Bronster (for Hawaiian Electric and HELCO) and David Louie (for Hu Honua Bioenergy, LLC).
Collins told Environment Hawai`i that the decision’s most important features are that it solidifies the holding that people have a constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, “rejects the PUC’s disregard of its statutory mandate to consider the effects of its proposed decisions on greenhouse gas emissions,” and “clarifies that the limitations on contested cases that appear in the BLNR rules are not based upon statute and, therefore, do not apply to other agencies.”
Life of the Land executive director Henry Curtis said his organization is thrilled with the court’s decision, and looked forward to participating in a process “where there can be a thorough analysis of the greenhouse gas implications for biomass generation facilities.”
Read the decision here.
Environment Hawai`i has published many articles and EH-xtra items on controversies involving Hu Honua. To see the full list, please use the search function on this page.
- Patricia Tummons