Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pocatello Hoku plant in jeopardy over power bill

Hoku Materials' Pocatello polysilicon plant, in a photo from 2010.
Hoku Materials' polysilicon plant in Pocatello, a great green energy hope for southeastern Idaho, is in trouble again. The Honolulu company is fighting a termination notice from Idaho Power Co., which is threatening to cut power to the plant next week unless a $1.9 million electricity bill from November is paid.

Hoku filed a protest with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission against the Dec. 27 final termination notice, saying that cutting electricity to the plant would cause Hoku to stop work on the plant and delay indefinitely the plant from becoming fully operational. Such delays would make it difficult for Hoku to fund its operations and keep its 160 employees, the company’s attorneys said in the protest.

In the past three years, Hoku has invested approximately $600 million in the construction of its facilities, including piping systems, pumps, motors and sensitive electronic equipment. "If service is terminated, these high-value systems may freeze, causing irreparable and material damage to Hoku’s plant assets,” the protest said.

Hoku is proposing that Idaho Power take the $1.9 million owed for the November invoice from a $4 million deposit the company made with the utility earlier this year. But in a response Friday, Idaho Power said it could not apply the deposit to the monthly charges because that would violate tariff rules. The electric utility called Hoku’s protest with the IPUC a stalling tactic.

China's Baoding Tianwei Group took a majority ownership in Hoku Materials in 2010 after the plant ran into financial difficulties. Economic development officials have said the plant, dedicated to making materials for solar panels, could create up to 200 green energy jobs in the region.

The city of Pocatello offered a number of incentives for Hoku to locate its site there. For a story about the agreement, follow this link: http://www.bannockdevelopment.org/content/city-hoku-reach-agreement.