3 lawsuits filed by opponents of Big Island geothermal plant

Puna Geothermal Venture hopes to restart operations in January.
Puna Geothermal Venture hopes to restart operations in January.(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Nov. 2, 2020 at 4:30 AM HST
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HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Environmentalists and Hawaii island residents have filed three lawsuits seeking further review of the state’s only geothermal power plant before the facility is allowed to produce electricity for consumer use.

The lawsuits were filed late last month in Hilo Circuit Court against Puna Geothermal Venture, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

The Hawaii Department of Health determined in September that Puna Geothermal did not require additional environmental review before Nevada-based parent company Ormat Technologies Inc. restarts the facility.

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

The lawsuits name the state health department and Puna Geothermal as defendants and claim that the plant’s environmental impact statement is inadequate and outdated. The project was originally completed in 1987.

Two of the lawsuits were filed Oct. 21. The first case is on behalf of the nonprofit environmental group Puna Pono Alliance and residents living near the plant who claim the plant adversely affects health and property.

The second lawsuit claiming the state and Puna Geothermal violated environmental regulations was filed on behalf of an environmental activist and two residents.

Puna Pono Alliance and others have for years fought the company over emissions of hydrogen sulfide gas in incidents including a well blowout in 1991 and a smaller leak in 2014.

The third lawsuit filed Oct. 23 accuses Puna Geothermal of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and claims fluid injection into geothermal wells during the 2018 eruption caused explosions that ejected lava under the plant out through a fissure.

Mike Kaleikini, Puna Geothermal senior director of Hawaii Affairs, denied the fracking claim in 2019.

Kaleikini did not comment on the lawsuits, but said in an email he hopes the power plant will be back online sometime next week.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.