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HELCO looks to expand geothermal energy production



Hawaii Electric Light Co. is looking to expand geothermal energy production on the Big Island.

HELCO President Jay Ignacio said Friday the company will be asking the Public Utilities Commission to open a geothermal request for proposals docket this year, with the goal of receiving those proposals by the end of the year.

HELCO last year put out a request for information, and the move to a request for proposals will build on that, Ignacio said.

"The RFI, we put it out and asked landowners and developers if they were interested in exploring geothermal," he said. "We wanted their insight about how to go about it."

Included in the questions in that request was whether developers were more interested in East Hawaii or West Hawaii. Ignacio said the interest in pursuing geothermal in West Hawaii exists, but developers were more interested in working in East Hawaii first. That's because the permitting period in East Hawaii, where a geothermal subzone already exists, will be shorter than in West Hawaii.

The company also plans to begin technical studies on integrating additional geothermal resources on the Big Island grid. Officials said those resources may include more transmission lines, if all the geothermal power originates on the island's east side. HELCO's goal is to add up to 50 mW of additional geothermal power, "if the cost is lower for customers," the announcement released Friday afternoon said.

More than 30 percent of Hawaii Island's electricity is renewably generated, coming from hydro, wind, distributed solar photovoltaic, concentrating solar and geothermal.

HELCO officials previously noted West Hawaii was the next target for a power generation plant. Half of the island's electrical load is in West Hawaii, while only 32 percent of electricity generation is there.

Puna Geothermal Venture first announced it was considering drilling Hualalai for possible geothermal energy production in 2009. A 2000 state-commissioned study found there is a 25 percent to 35 percent probability of a high-temperature resource being located near the upper slopes of the 8,271-foot mountain.

PGV, a subsidiary of Nevada-based Ormat Technologies, operates a 38-megawatt capacity geothermal plant. It has, historically, failed to meet its stated energy output goals, a company official said in 2010, because of problems with blocked wells.

Geothermal energy has its opponents on the Big Island, particularly in Puna where PGV is located.