If you don’t remember last week’s Hoku vs. Idaho power debacle, you’ve been missing quite the fight. Hoku hasn’t been able to pay the power bills for its Pocatello-based polysilicon plant, despite signing a contract back in 2009 agreeing to the amount of the bills. Idaho Power got sick of it and decided to cut power to plant. To save their skin, Hoku filed an official complaint with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, who ordered Idaho Power to leave the power on until a decision could be reached. On Friday, IPUC reached that decision. So who would win this epic battle for the ages?
Well they both kind of ended up winning. Although Hoku went ahead and paid off the $1.9 million bill from November, the commission denied the company’s request to suspend its December and future payments. However, it also rejected Idaho Power’s insistence on collecting on the remaining $1.8 million from a $5.8 million deposit. The commission also ordered the two parties to negotiate an amendment to their contract to work this whole thing out. So what seemed like a slam dunk for Idaho Power ended up being a pretty even compromise.
But that doesn’t mean any of the fighting is over. On Friday, Idaho Power claimed that Hoku failed to disclose a financing agreement with its Chinese bank (yup, Hoku is owned largely by the Chinese), to the sum of $10 million for operations and maintenance. Seeing as the company still owes Idaho Power about $2 million, they feel pretty miffed about it all. They claim Hoku knew about the $10 million an hour before the Thursday hearing but simply decided not to include that information.
Rocky Barker, a writer with the Idaho Statesmen, said the fight and resolution give a look into Idaho’s business climate. On one hand, you don’t want to put 160 Hoku workers out of jobs because the company can’t pay its power bill. On the other hand, you have Idaho Power customers and investors that could be hurt just because Hoku made risky business decisions. The IPUC’s decision to force a negotiation shows their dedication to the idea of fairness, said Barker. Business and employment are protected, but so is the idea of responsibility.
The end result of the commission’s involvement in the spat has led to a hard deadline of Jan. 26 for Hoku to cough up the money for the $1.9 million December bill and interest from November. If they don’t pay, Idaho Power can officially pull the plug on the Pocatello plant—and you can be sure their hands are ready and waiting.