DOH: No further environmental review needed for PGV permit

  • Tribune-Herald file photo An aerial view of Puna Geothermal Venture from Feb. 15, 2019.

Puna Geothermal Venture — which hopes to produce electricity again by the end of the month following delays in rebuilding the facility after it was partially destroyed by lava two years ago — has cleared a hurdle in renewing its air pollution control permit from the state.

The Department of Health determined the state’s only geothermal power plant isn’t required to undergo additional environmental review in its ongoing permit renewal process. The so-called noncovered source permit requires renewal every five years.

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“The DOH has taken a hard look at all the environmental factors raised in … demands for (environmental review), and it has concluded independently that a new or supplemental environmental review is not required to be conducted by the DOH for renewal … ,” wrote Bruce Anderson, state health director, in a letter to PGV and numerous opponents dated Sept. 4.

Those opponents include Puna Pono Alliance and Malama O Puna.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources on Sept. 8, 2019, denied a request for environmental review by Pele Defense Fund.

PGV, which is owned by Nevada-based parent company Ormat Technologies Inc., supplied 31% of electricity to Hawaii Island before its shutdown.

Lava from the Kilauea volcano eruption that began in May 2018 isolated or covered the 38-megawatt power plant’s geothermal wells, destroyed the company’s substation and cut off the access road to the facility.

Asked Wednesday if the goal remains for going online by the end of September, Mike Kaleikini, PGV’s senior director said, “We’re still working on it.”

“We wanted to come online earlier, but the closer we got to the time, there was more work that needed to be done,” said Kaleikini. “Our target is still the end of the month, until such time something else might pop up or whatever.”

Company officials hoped PGV would be operational by the end of 2019 so the plant could sell electricity to Hawaiian Electric Co. early this year. But equipment problems and permitting issues kept that from happening. According to company officials, the coronavirus pandemic also was a factor.

Kaleikini said the company plans to get the smallest of its generation units, which produces 3 megawatts of power, online by the end of the month.

“That would be, probably, the initial startup amount, at the most,” he said. “Our plan has been, and continues to be, that we want to ramp up, and we’re targeting about 29 megawatts by the end of the year. That’s our estimates. But, hopefully, we can go higher than that.”

Work will continue to restore capacity to 38 megawatts, Kaleikini said. He noted there is an amended power purchase agreement with HECO for eight additional megawatts going through the approval process with the state Public Utilities Commission.

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Those in opposition to the amended power purchase agreement include parties that sought environmental review of the project.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.