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Lava, Hurricane Lane dent isle’s renewable energy portfolio, but officials vow to get it back on track

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Warren Lee of Hu Honua Bioenergy, Jay Igancio of Hawaii Electric Light Co. and Mike Kaleikini of Puna Geothermal Ventures sit down for a talk story presentation Wednesday about Hawaii Island’s energy future. The presentation was part of a Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce luncheon at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Mike Kaleikini of Puna Geothermal Ventures, Warren Lee of Hu Honua Bioenergy and Jay Igancio of Hawaii Electric Light Co. smile for a picture together Wednesday during a Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce luncheon at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.

Hawaii Island’s renewable energy portfolio took a hit from a series of natural disasters this year, losing geothermal and hydroelectric power sources.

But Mike Kaleikini, senior director for Ormat Technology Inc.’s Puna Geothermal Venture, and Jay Ignacio, president of Hawaii Electric Light Co., vow to put things back on track as soon as they’re able.

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Kaleikini and Ignacio, along with Warren Lee, president of Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC, sat down Wednesday for a luncheon talk story session with the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce.

“In terms of renewable energy, we’re kind of taking a step back from where we were in 2018,” Ignacio said, adding that the island’s renewable mix now accounts for 25 percent to 30 percent of utility sales.

The island, with a mix of geothermal, solar, wind and hydroelectricity, last year had the highest renewable percentage in the state at 57 percent. That means less than half of total utility sales came from fossil fuels.

In comparison, the state average last year was 27.7 percent, according to the state Public Utilities Commission.

“PGV, Ormat is totally 100 percent committed to returning back to operations,” Kaleikini said. “It’s a different landscape today, but we’re committed to coming back. … It’s been tough.”

Ormat has been helicoptering staff to the site, he said, as a 50-to-60-foot wall of lava blocks the entrance. Major work has to wait until state officials give the go-ahead; a difficult proposition since Gov. David Ige last week signed a fourth supplemental emergency proclamation, extending the lava emergency until Dec. 1.

The 38-megawatt geothermal plant provided 31 percent of the energy to the grid last year. One megawatt powers between 750 and 1,000 homes.

“We’re waiting for the day the governor says this eruption is over,” Kaleikini said.

That lava wall also is keeping HELCO crews from replacing the connection station and transmission lines to the plant, Ignacio said.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Lane took out one of HELCO’s hydroelectric plants on the Wailuku River. Two other plants remain, one privately owned and another owned by HELCO. The damaged plant accounted for just a fraction of the island energy supply at 1 megawatt, but it will be replaced.

HELCO plans to add more solar energy to the grid and is in negotiations for two projects totaling approximately 60 megawatts of generation and 240 megawatt-hours of electrical storage.

Bioenergy power also is planned for the grid. Hu Honua is racing toward a Dec. 31 deadline to be operational or risk losing a $100 million investment tax credit, Lee said. He said the company is operating two construction shifts a day six days a week and one shift Sundays, with some 400 workers on the site at any given time.

“There’s some big bucks going into this,” Lee said. “Big bucks.”

The 30-megawatt plant, once complete, will satisfy 14 percent of the island’s power needs, replacing 250,000 barrels of fossil fuel annually, Lee said. It will process eucalyptus trees and invasive plants and create managed forests for a future, renewable fuel supply, he said.

“The plan is to revitalize the Hamakua Coast with biomass plantations,” Lee said. “Biomass is not just for the large landowners. … Why can’t we have independent tree growers? That’s what we’re looking at.”

Ignacio said HELCO is looking forward to having PGV and Hu Honua contributing to the grid. Still, he said, the utility isn’t ready to totally cut the cord from fossil fuels.

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“If we didn’t have the oil-fired units to keep the lights on,” Ignacio said, “we’d be in trouble.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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