In re Application of Maui Electric Company, Case No. SCWC-15-0000640 (Dec. 14, 2017)
Hawaii Supreme Court
Maui Electric Company sought regulatory approval from the Public Utilities Commission to enter into a power purchase agreement with an electricity producer (HC&S). Sierra Club filed a motion to intervene in the administrative proceeding on behalf of its members who live near the power plant, which burns biomass, coal, and petroleum. In its motion, Sierra Club highlighted concerns with, among other things, the power plant’s heavy reliance on coal to meet power obligations and its many air pollution violations.
The Commission denied the motion to intervene, notwithstanding Sierra Club’s claim that it had a due process right to participate in the proceeding, and ultimately approved Maui Electric Company’s application to enter into the power purchase agreement.
The Hawaii Supreme Court disagreed with the Commission’s conclusion, declaring Sierra Club had a due process right to be heard to protect its environmental interests under Article XI, section 9 of the state constitution, which guarantees the right to a clean and healthful environment. The Court stated: “[U]nder the circumstances of this case, the protected property interest in a clean and healthful environment asserted by Sierra Club necessitated a hearing by the Commission to consider the impacts of approving the Agreement on Sierra Club’s members’ right to a clean and healthful environment, including the release of harmful greenhouse gases by the Puʻunene Plant that would result from the Agreement, whether the cost of the energy under the Agreement was reasonable in light of the potential for harmful emissions, and whether the terms of the Agreement were prudent in light of the potential hidden and long-term consequences of the Agreement.” Id., pp. 47-48.