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Rebuild Planned for Hawaii Geothermal Plant Damaged by Lava

Rebuild Planned for Hawaii Geothermal Plant Damaged by Lava
(Photo: Lava from the Kilauea volcano eruption on the Big Island, May 24, 2018. Credit: Moshen Chan, Flickr Creative Commons)

Nearly a year after lava from the Kilauea volcano eruption on Hawaii wrought destruction on the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), plans are in the works to rebuild the facility. Hawaii Electric Light and PGV signed an agreement to restore the plant to commercial operations in 2019.

In May 2018, the eruption prompted an emergency shutdown at the 38-MW-capacity geothermal plant, which produced about a quarter of the energy for the Big Island of Hawaii. The plant sold electricity to Hawaii Electric Light for distribution to their 85,925 customers on the island.

PGV officials enacted an emergency response plan, which entailed shutting down the power plant and all of the geothermal wells. They also removed all flammable pentane from the site and stored it safely offsite.

Ormat Technologies, the majority operator and owner of the plant, decided to shut the facility down to prevent electrical fires from the lava, Ars Technica’s Megan Geuss reported.

“Ultimately, however, the fallout was not so dramatic: a natural berm held back the lava for days, and the flowing hot rock only destroyed a substation on Puna’s 815-acre property, as well as a warehouse containing a spare drill,” she wrote. “Lava covered two wellheads, but the rest were left untouched.”

In a March 2019 letter to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) and PGV wrote that they entered into an agreement to restore the facility and reconnect it to the grid.

Prior to the eruption last year, they were in the middle of negotiating a possible amended and reinstate PPA. One point of discussion was whether to delink the existing PPA from the cost of fossil fuel. During peak hours, the first 25 megawatts PGV sells to HELCO is tied to the price of oil, the Hawaii Tribune Herald reported last week.

Mike Kaleikini, senior director of Hawaii affairs for Ormat, told the paper that talks with HELCO are ongoing. He also indicated that if the regulatory hurdles are cleared, the goal is to have PGV operational by the end of this year.

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