PGV back online

  • PGV is seen in January during recovery from the Kilauea lava flow. (Courtesy photo/PGV)

  • Courtesy Puna Geothermal Venture Puna Geothermal Venture has resumed operations more than two years after the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano halted the production of electricity.

Puna Geothermal Venture has resumed operations, more than two years after the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano forced the power plant to stop producing electricity.

The plant restarted on Nov. 5 and is now delivering 1-2 megawatts of energy to the utility grid, parent company Ormat Technologies Inc. said in a news release Thursday.

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The company expects to gradually ramp up production to approximately 15 megawatts by the end of the year, should an additional production well be successfully connected to the power plant.

Hawaii’s only geothermal power plant was isolated by lava during the 2018 eruption, when lava destroyed a substation and covered a few geothermal wells, as well as cut off road access to the facility.

PGV officials hoped the plant would be operational by the end of 2019 and could sell electricity early in 2020, but the facility experienced some equipment problems when attempting to come back online, and the startup was postponed.

According to Ormat, the plant’s recovery plan included building a new substation and adding new geothermal wells.

Completion of the additional well field work over the next six months will enable PGV to increase production, Ormat said.

The goal is for the power plant to reach full capacity of 38 megawatts by the middle of 2021.

During a community meeting held Wednesday via Zoom, Mike Kaleikini, PGV’s senior director, Hawaii affairs, said the biggest delay in getting back online “has been just the climate and the work. The pandemic has not helped with materials, and that’s really put a big additional challenge on us.”

Plant manager Jordan Hara said getting the plant back online has taken a lot of work. Hara also said recovery of equipment is ongoing, and work to get that equipment back into “tip-top condition” continues.

According to Kaleikini, PGV has all necessary permits required for the operation of the power plant.

One production well and two injection wells are operational, but by the end of the month, PGV is expected to connect another well to the power plant and begin drilling a new well, Kaleikini said in a phone interview Thursday.

All the work for a new well typically takes about three months to complete, he said.

“All wells are initially drilled as development wells, and it’s not until we get to the resource zones before we determine whether we’re going to use it as a producer or injector,” he explained Wednesday.

Kaleikini said PGV has the permitting in place to drill one new well. Any additional wells beyond that will require additional permitting.

An application for an amended power purchase agreement between the power plant and Hawaiian Electric — which includes a proposal to modify plant equipment — is still under consideration by the state Public Utilities Commission.

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, Hawaiian Electric has said previously. 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 the goal of the modifications is to replace old equipment with newer, more modern and more efficient equipment, which will allow the plant to expand its capacity from 38 megawatts to 46 megawatts.

The new equipment will be quieter and have fewer emission points, he said.

Kaleikini said during Wednesday’s meeting that PGV and other participants in the power purchase agreement docket have responded to requests for information, but the agreement is still under consideration for approval.

“We hope we will hear back from the PUC before the end of this year.”

A trio of lawsuits filed last month in Hilo Circuit Court requested an environmental review be complete before PGV was allowed to produce electricity.

Kaleikini said PGV takes the legal matters seriously, but because litigation is involved, he could not comment directly on the lawsuits.

However, he does not anticipate the lawsuits having an impact on plant operations.

In its own news release, Hawaiian Electric said PGV’s return increases the electric company’s “generation reserve margins,” which ensures there is electricity available for periods of high demand when other providers are out of service for maintenance.

“With PGV back online, Hawaiian Electric can further reduce the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity,” the utility said.

PGV’s return to service, however, will have little immediate impact on electric bills since oil prices have fallen significantly since its 2018 shutdown.

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According to Kaleikini, PGV has 32 full-time employees, 20 temporary hires and 50-100 contractors onsite each day.

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