Hu Honua plant on hold pending permits, approvals


Developers of the Hu Honua Bioenergy plant in Pepeekeo have scaled back work at the site as they await regulatory permits and approvals, according to company CEO John Sylvia.

“We’ve basically had to hit the pause button after we got out a little bit in front of ourselves,” he said Wednesday.

“I think we underestimated the level of time it takes for these things to happen. … We’re looking at between six and nine more months of work to do, and unfortunately, that’s the big question we just don’t know how much longer it will take while we’re waiting for a whole series of permits and approvals.”

Among those decisions upon which completion of the bioenergy plant relies is an approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission concerning a power-purchase agreement with Hawaii Electric Light Co., he said.

The company signed the agreement with HELCO in May 2012, with the utility agreeing to purchase 21.5 megawatts, or 10 percent of the island’s electrical needs, from Hu Honua for a total of 10 years. But before Hu Honua can begin operations, the agreement must be given the OK by the Public Utilities Commission. Sylvia said there was no way to know when the PUC might weigh in on the agreement.

“We had hoped to sort of be through that (approval) process within a year, which would have been May 2013. Unfortunately, that has not happened,” Sylvia said.

As a result of the delay, he said, the company has had to step down its construction work at the site. About 12 employees remain on the former property of the Pepeekeo Sugar Mill, working on a variety of tasks.

“I think there is some general site work that is going on, in terms of grading and preparing the foundation. … There’s still some piping work to be done in terms of fabrication. … And there’s still some maintenance work. They have to turn the motors and lubricate them, to ensure they’ll keep running when the time comes. There’s also some wiring going on inside the plant,” he said.

Sylvia said Hu Honua has worked to lessen the impact of the slowdown on its employees and contractors, but some have had to leave the site until their work can begin again.

“It’s a bit unfortunate. We thought our schedules would synchronize, but we have had to recalibrate our schedule. Depending on when we get back into full construction mode, we will have mobilization of workers. A lot of these craft labor (workers) have to come from someplace else, just due to the nature of the work,” he said.

This summer, construction workers at the site were also impacted when a labor jurisdiction dispute temporarily put work on hold. A spokeswoman for Hu Honua said Wednesday afternoon that the dispute has since been resolved, but could not say how long the work stoppage lasted.

In a schedule update provided by Hu Honua last month, the company reported that refurbishment of the plant’s turbine and turbine generation had been completed.

“To minimize the potential for emissions, Hu Honua is installing CO and NOX catalytic reduction technology to control greenhouse gases, an electrostatic precipitator for dust collection and a baghouse for particulate matter,” the release stated. “A combination of any two of these systems is deployed typically to curb emissions. Hu Honua is investing in all three systems because we are committed to protecting the environment and surrounding community.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.