Description: Challenge to Public Utilities Commission’s approval of a power purchase agreement for a utility to purchase renewable energy from a solar-plus-battery plant.
In re Maui Electric Co.
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 03/03/2022 Order Download Order of correction issued. 03/02/2022 Opinion Download Dissenting opinion issued. 03/02/2022 Opinion Download Public Utilities Commission orders affirmed. Rejecting Public Trust Claim, Hawai'i Supreme Court Upheld Solar Plant Power Purchase Agreement. The Hawai'i Supreme Court affirmed the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) approval of a power purchase agreement (PPA) for a utility to purchase renewable energy from a solar-plus-battery plant. The court rejected a community group’s contention that the PUC failed to fulfill its public trust duties as well as an argument regarding anticompetitive practices. Regarding the PUC’s public trust obligations, the court concluded that the statutes governing the PUC’s review of PPAs reflected the “core public trust principles” so that “when there is no reasonable threat to a trust resource, satisfying those statutory provisions fulfills the PUC’s obligations as trustee.” These governing statutes required the PUC to weigh the need to mitigate risks—including greenhouse gas emissions—from fossil fuel-based energy as well as other “technical, economic, environmental, and cultural” factors. The court found that because the record lacked a reasonable threat to a trust resource, the PUC’s weighing of these factors satisfied its trustee obligations without the need for specific findings about each affected public trust resource. In a footnote, the court noted that the governing statutory provisions also intersected with the Hawai'i Constitution’s right to “a clean and healthful environment,” the parameters of which are defined by laws relating to environmental quality, including the PUC governing statute. The court stated that the right to a clean and healthful environment as defined by the PUC statute “subsumes a right to a life-sustaining climate system.” A dissenting justice would have found that the community group raised a reasonable allegation of harm to public trust resources.