Decision time on Hu Honua

Power plant proposal thrashed out at hearing, Pepeekeo site visit

by Peter Sur
The president of Hu Honua Bioenergy answered community concerns about a proposed power plant under oath Wednesday and gave a tour of the shuttered facility that he hopes to reopen.

The final witness in the contested case hearing in Hilo was Hu Honua President Rick McQuain, who appeared before hearings officer Robert Crudele and the 16 opponents, called intervenors, who are against the proposed $70 million biomass plant.

Once the final briefs are submitted, Crudele will review the evidence and make a recommendation to the county’s Windward Planning Commission. The seven-member commission will then decide whether to approve Hu Honua’s request to change a 1985 special management area permit that authorized a coal-fired plant.

Hu Honua wants to generate electricity by burning chipped eucalyptus trees, processing about 260,000 tons of biomass per year. The company wants to use the former Hilo Coast Processing Co.’s coal-burning plant in Pepeekeo, which closed in 2004.

Neighboring landowners are concerned about the increased truck traffic on the road to the plant — five to six trips per hour — and also about the impact on air quality.

Should Hu Honua’s application be denied, McQuain said he might appeal the decision or change plans; he would have to see the specific basis for a denial to determine what he would do next.

During the two-hour hearing, McQuain jousted with Steve Strauss, attorney for some of the intervenors, over the site of an outfall where up to 21.6 million gallons of water per day would be discharged over the makai sea cliff into the Pacific. The water will come from three nearby brackish wells, and will be used to condense steam after it goes through the turbine.

One woman asked McQuain about carbon monoxide levels that would increase from the 28.2 pounds per hour emitted from the old plant in 2000, to 71.6 pounds per hour under the draft permit.

“So if we’re increasing carbon monoxide from 28.2 to 71.6, that’s nearly a tripling of carbon monoxide, is it not?” she asked.

“That’s a significant increase, correct,” McQuain said. He was questioned further about other pollution levels for the plant. Carbon monoxide is a weak greenhouse gas.

At 1 p.m., intervenors, Crudele and McQuain gathered at the entrance to the facility for a site visit. Due to the limited space, the visit was closed to the public, but the Tribune-Herald was granted permission to accompany them.

The group took a muddy road down to view the sea cliff, where they saw the dilapidated structure known as Outfall 1, where the cooling water would be discharged.

Hu Honua applied for the special management area permit in January, but in June a portion of the outfall fell into the ocean. The question now is whether a repair to the structure would require an environmental assessment.

McQuain disagrees with some of the intervenors who say an assessment is required.

“We believe we can repair that structure,” he said. A regulatory agency, from either the state or Hawaii County, would have to make that decision.

Much work needs to be done to bring the plant into working condition, including the upgrading of controls, changing some of the turbine blades, replacing boiler tubes, adding acoustic siding, installing a new 140-foot stack and new air pollution control systems.

Hu Honua has applied for a clean air permit and is working to answer comments from the community.

Decision time on Hu Honua

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