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Idaho solar plant faces deadline to pay Idaho Power electric bill for December

A struggling southeastern Idaho solar-industry manufacturer has paid its November bill of $1.9 million to Idaho Power Co. and has until Jan. 26 to pay interest on the bill along with its December’s bill, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission says.

The agency tells KIFI-TV that Honolulu-based polysilicon maker Hoku Corp. on Jan. 13 told Commercial Bank of China to wire $1.9 million to the utility.

Idaho Power last month told Hoku Corp. that its power could be shut off if the November bill wasn’t paid. Hoku Corp. on Jan. 9 filed a complaint with the commission accusing Idaho Power Co. of overcharging on its electric bills.

Hoku says losing electricity would delay its Pocatello plant’s commissioning and expose infrastructure to freezing just as winter sets in, causing “material harm.” Southeastern Idaho’s hopes that Hoku’s $390 million plant will eventually add hundreds of green-energy jobs to the local economy have been replaced by uncertainty over whether the project will survive.

Hoku officials have said a slump in the polysilicon market is why the plant hasn’t produced revenue.

The commission on Jan. 13 denied Hoku’s request to suspend its December bill and future payments. But the commission also denied Idaho Power’s request that Hoku pay an additional $1.8 million deposit beyond a $4 million deposit Hoku has already paid.

The commission also ordered Hoku and Idaho Power to negotiate a possible amendment to their contract.

Also on Jan. 13, Idaho Power said Hoku completed a finance deal with its Chinese bank that made $10 million available, but failed to disclose that during arguments before the commission on Jan. 12.

Earlier this month, Hoku announced that its chief financial officer was resigning. Its net loss for the three months ending Sept. 30 increased four-fold from the year earlier to nearly $8 million, as costs to commission the plant rose and it paid $3.5 million to Idaho Power to fulfill its electrical service agreement.

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