Categorized | Business, Energy

Hu Honua receives draft air permit


Hu Honua Bioenergy announced it is able to meet or exceed the stringent public health air emission requirements set in the draft air permit just released by the Hawaii Department of Health.

Hu Honua is refurbishing a power facility into a renewable biomass energy plant in an existing industrial complex at Peepekeo on the Hamakua Coast.

“This draft permit, and our positive discussions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirm Hu Honua’s commitment to the highest public health standards,” said Rick McQuain, Hu Honua president.

The draft permit calls for addition of a baghouse which collects dust and particles, continuous emissions monitoring for hydrogen chloride and carbon monoxide, limitations on boiler startups, lower emission and other limits. It also prohibits the use of higher-sulfur S500 biodiesel fuel to start the burners.

“Hu Honua’s base operations will be fueled by biomass — wood or wood chips,” McQuain said, “but on startup, the boilers require the boost of a higher combustion fuel, so we will use a low sulfur biodiesel, compliant with the draft permit.”

The draft permit is open for 30 days of public comment.

“We are pleased that the DOH review notes that Hu Honua had an existing covered source permit (CSP) for an older technology, and that we voluntarily agreed to apply for a new one, requiring more stringent emission levels,” McQuain said.

He noted that Hu Honua also surveyed Big Island residents to get a sense of the level of acceptance for the planned 23.8-megawatt biomass facility. Island residents clearly see the need for locally grown, renewable fuel to generate electricity and for stabilized electricity rates.

The survey, conducted in December by Qmark Research of Honolulu, found that 70 percent of those asked indicated they favor the Hu Honua facility.

Nearly 75 percent see great benefit to the stabilizing effect the local, renewable fuel will have on electric rates. The facility would provide “base load” electricity, which essentially is steady electricity, as opposed to other alternatives such as wind and solar, which are intermittent and depend on weather conditions.

To varying degrees, an overwhelming majority (more than 89 percent) supports the facility’s mission to produce renewable energy in an environmentally responsible manner.

Qmark Research, which conducted the poll, is a well-respected research organization founded by Barbara Ankersmit 15 years ago. She has more than 30 years of experience across Hawaii, the Mainland and the Pacific region.

The research also indicated many Big Island residents are not aware that Hu Honua has committed to a high-level environmental and safety standards.

“We’ll be increasing our outreach to the community to let them know,” McQuain said.

Hu Honua Bionenergy is converting the old Hilo Coast Processing sugar mill power plant into a modern biomass energy facility. After sugar operations ceased, the plant operated for some years as a coal-fired power plant.

When completed, it can supply 10 percent of the island’s power needs from renewable resources.

Besides the construction jobs (estimated at 100 for nearly a year), Hu Honua anticipates there will be 30 full time plant jobs and about 120 indirect jobs in the timber industry and other support for the operation.

Hu Honua has also applied for a Shoreline Management Area (SMA) use permit amendment from Hawaii County. There is an existing permit for the old operation and Hu Honua seeks to have it changed for biomass rather than coal.

This SMA permit is subject to a contested case hearing, the evidentiary portion of which was held last fall. The hearing officer is expected to close the hearing soon and then has 45 days to make his recommendation to the County Planning Commission. The County Planning Department has recommended approval.

(Research Methodology: 405 interviews conducted Dec. 8-11, 2010, margin of error +/- 4.9 percentage points with 95 percent confidence level.)

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