More intervenors in PGV docket

Three organizations — Tawhiri Power, Hu Honua Bioenergy and Puna Pono Alliance — have filed motions to intervene in a docket before the state Public Utilities Commission regarding an amended and restated power purchase agreement between Hawaiian Electric and Puna Geothermal Venture.

According to its filing, Tawhiri Power has been providing Hawaii Electric Light Co., HELCO, now known as Hawaiian Electric, with renewable wind energy since 2007 and “has property and financial interests to protect, and therefore it must ensure that any expansion of PGV does not increase the amount of curtailment it will experience from HELCO.”

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If the proposed project increases the probability of a restriction on its energy production, Tawhiri will “strongly oppose the instance application on the basis that it is being entered into at the detriment of an existing renewable facility.”

In its motion, Hu Honua, developer and owner of a biomass facility under construction in Pepeekeo, said its operation is dependent on HELCO’s output.

“As an independent power producer on Hawaii Island, Hu Honua has a direct and substantial interest in the approval of a new or amended power purchase agreement relating to the supply of renewable energy on Hawaii Island that may potentially impact Hu Honua’s power purchase arrangements with HELCO,” the motion reads.

Warren Lee, president of Hu Honua, which is now doing business as Honua Ola Bioenergy, said in an email that the company supports PGV.

“Because we will be part of the Hawaii Island energy renewable energy power producers, it is important to understand how the system will be operating,” he said. “Requesting intervenor/participant status will provide a means to ensure we have a thorough, factual understanding of the energy landscape.”

According to its filing, Puna Pono Alliance’s interest in the application “arises primarily from experiences and concerns of (group) members regarding issues of health, safety, economy, regulatory oversight and quality of life in relation to geothermal generating facilities, as well as the comparison of such facilities to alternative energy sources in relation to those same issues.”

Robert Petricci, president of Puna Pono Alliance, a volunteer community organization, said the group is intervening “because we have a lot of experience dealing with PGV.”

Among the group’s concerns is the location of the plant and that there are better, more affordable ways to generate electricity.

Solar power can be utilized anywhere, he said, “and they’re going to put PGV back in Lava Zone 1. It’s not reliable. (It’s) not the best thing for anybody except maybe PGV. … We just think there’s a better way to do things than this project … .”

Petricci contends that a contract with PGV will take away from future solar projects that could produce the same amount of megawatts “because there’s nowhere to sell it.”

Richard Ha, president of the Big Island Community Coalition, also requested his organization be allowed to “participate without intervention.”

“We’re reviewing the motions and will file our response shortly,” Kristen Okinaka, spokesperson for Hawaiian Electric’s operations on Hawaii Island, said by email Thursday afternoon.

Mike Kaleikini, PGV’s senior director, Hawaii affairs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment in regard to the filed motions.

HELCO asked that the PUC approve the PPA early this year, stating in the application it would provide “significant benefits,” including lower bills for customers, a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, and a “reduction in customers’ exposure to fossil fuel price volatility,” among others.

Under the new agreement, the rate paid by the utility to PGV will be fixed and no longer linked to the price of oil.

By eliminating the volatility of oil prices from the rate paid to PGV, the new fixed-price contract will ensure that bills are more stable, an early January news release stated at that time. This new pricing arrangement follows guidance provided by the PUC.

As part of the amended agreement, PGV has agreed to modify its current facility to provide an additional eight megawatts of energy and firm capacity, which will further reduce bills and the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Kaleikini said last week PGV would like to decommission 10 of its old generating units and replace them with two newer modern units, which would allow the plant to increase its generation from 38 megawatts to 46 megawatts, “just by the fact the newer equipment is much more efficient and modern.”

The state’s only geothermal power plant was isolated by lava during the eruption. Lava destroyed a substation and covered a few geothermal wells, as well as cut off road access to the plant. It was otherwise spared significant damage in the eruption that began May 3, 2018, in lower Puna.

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PGV officials had hoped the plant would be operational by the end of 2019 and could sell electricity early in 2020, however, Kaleikini also said last week the plant experienced some equipment problems when attempting to come back online, and the startup was postponed.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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