Debate underway about future of Puna geothermal plant

PUNA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Sen. Russell Ruderman believes there's no future for the Puna Geothermal Venture — or any geothermal energy — in Hawaii.

"We are in fear of PGV ever starting up again," said Ruderman, who represents Puna.

"So you have a very poisonous steam, an unstable area, located dangerously close to residents and we saw that very dramatically in 91 with the blow out."

In 1991, Civil Defense evacuated Lanipuna Gardens after PGV drillers hit a hotspot, blowing hydrogen sulfide and steam into the sky.

After the blowout, Ruderman and 14 others were arrested after trying to block PGV from reopening.

"We got on the well pad where they couldn't proceed while we were there, had to wait and have us arrested," he said.

Gov. David Ige says with 30 feet of lava currently surrounding the facility, and it's too early to tell if it could reopen.

But supporters of PGV say there were no blowouts from the lava and think the company could restart if the eruption stops.

The company provides about 30 percent of the Big Island's electricity.

"If it (lava) stays like this and eventually it stops, I think it can be rehabilitated and mainly it's because I believe we are too dependent on fossil fuel," said Richard Ha, who's done agriculture on the Big Island for decades.

Supporters add that precautions worked even though there was damage from lava.

And PGV managers said that the way the wells were sealed and covered, they could be reopened someday.

While the future is uncertain, possible protests have already been ignited.

"I've been assured there will be protests that would dwarf the protests in 1991," Ruderman said. "I heard that from people who've never been involved in the geothermal issue before."

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