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For the second time in as many months, the Hawaii Supreme Court on Friday heard oral arguments in a case that seeks to undermine the controversial Na Pua Makani wind farm in Kahuku.
This time the high court heard an appeal from the environmental nonprofit group Life of the Land, which is seeking to invalidate the state Public Utilities Commission’s approval of an agreement between Hawaiian Electric Co. and the wind farm’s developers for the purchase of wind energy.
Attorneys for the Life of the Land argued Friday that the PUC had no right last year to dismiss its motion objecting to the agreement, while attorneys representing HECO and the PUC defended the move.
The court said it would make a ruling at a later date.
The Kahuku wind farm has been the center of controversy throughout its planning, construction and operational phases. A couple of years ago, some 200 people were arrested trying to stop its massive turbine parts from being hauled from the port at Kalaeloa to Kahuku.
Today, with its eight turbines towering over the community, the project remains a target of criticism, with some residents complaining that the spinning towers are too close to homes and are the source of noise and potential health problems.
The developer, Na Pua Makani Power Partners LLC, denies that the project will produce any health issues. The project, it says, is helping Oahu reduce its dependence on fossil fuels by adding clean power to Oahu’s electrical grid. It will also help Oahu avoid almost 1 million tons of carbon dioxide over next 20 years.
Last month the Supreme Court heard arguments in a dispute with the nonprofit Keep the North Shore Country over the developer’s habitat conservation plan and incidental take license, which allows the spinning turbines to kill 51 bats, or opeapea, over 21 years.
A ruling on that appeal is also pending.
In 2019 Life of the Land challenged the project’s power purchase agreement, first approved by the PUC in 2014 and amended two years later, saying there were flaws in the contract.
Among other things, the group argued that the project failed to obtain an incidental take permit for the Hawaiian hoary bat within the deadlines set forth under the purchase agreement.
But the PUC said last year that Life of the Land took too long to file its motion. The PUC said the nonprofit failed to meet deadlines spelled out in state law for challenging the power purchase agreement’s approval.
Life of the Land Attorney Lance Collins argued Friday that the PUC didn’t have the authority to reject the motion in the way it did.
“They cannot operate with unfettered discretion, ” Collins told the court during an online session. “The standard cannot be that we will vacate or modify or approve amendments when we feel like it. That’s the definition of abuse of discretion.”
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