Hawaii geothermal plant can restart without further review

Puna Geothermal Venture hopes to restart operations in January.
Puna Geothermal Venture hopes to restart operations in January.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Sep. 25, 2020 at 5:36 AM HST
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HILO, Hawaii (AP) — The Hawaii Department of Health determined the state’s only geothermal power plant does not need an additional environmental review in its ongoing effort to restart after the facility was shut down by a volcanic eruption.

Puna Geothermal Venture is in the review process for a noncovered source permit, which is effective for five years, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Thursday.

Puna Geothermal Venture and Nevada-based parent company Ormat Technologies Inc. hope to produce electricity again by the end of September following technical delays in rebuilding the Big Island facility.

The 38-megawatt power plant’s geothermal wells were isolated or covered by lava in the Kilauea volcano eruption that began in May 2018. Puna Geothermal supplied 31% of Hawaii island’s electricity before the shutdown.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said in a Sept. 4 letter that the health department had “taken a hard look at all the environmental factors” and determined a new or supplemental review was not needed for the plant’s reopening.

Opponents of the plant include sustainable energy and environmental advocacy groups Puna Pono Alliance and Malama O Puna.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources earlier this month denied an environmental review request by Pele Defense Fund, an advocacy group for traditional Hawaiian practices.

Puna Geothermal Senior Director Mike Kaleikini said Wednesday that the company continues to make preparations for the plant’s restart.

“We wanted to come online earlier. But the closer we got to the time, there was more work that needed to be done,” Kaleikini said. “Our target is still the end of the month, until such time something else might pop up or whatever.”

The company plans to initially bring online its smallest unit, which produces 3 MW of power. Work will then continue to restore capacity to 38 MW, Kaleikini said.

There is an amended power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric Co. for an additional 8 MW currently in the approval process with the state Public Utilities Commission, Kaleikini said.

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