The plant was forced to shut down in May 2018, after fast-moving lava threatened the facility. The generation substation was ultimately spared, but three geothermal wells and PGV’s access road were covered by fresh lava. Connection to the electrical grid was also severed.
In a major recovery milestone, the service connection to utility provider Hawaii Electric Light’s grid was recently restored, allowing work at the geothermal plant to continue without external generators.
Before the closure, PGV used 11 geothermal wells to generate 38 megawatts of power, equal to 31 percent of Hawaii Island’s electricity need. The island’s utility was forced to increase electricity production at fossil fuel-burning facilities to make up the shortfall.
Since the end of the Leilani Estates eruption, Puna Geothermal parent company Ormat cut an initial access road through the fresh lava and is working to recover the three wells covered during the eruption.
In April, the company completed a second access road, one that has been opened to residents of the area. According to Hawaii County, 56 structures still remain in an area near PGV that had been completely cut off by lava, called a kipuka in Hawaiian. The road represents the first corridor for ground vehicle access to the area since the eruption.
Work is also expected to begin on upgrades planned before the eruption. Michael Kaleikini, Ormat’s director of Hawaii affairs, says the company recently received regulatory approval to drill new geothermal wells.
“We haven’t drilled any new wells yet, but we’re planning to soon. What we’re doing is recovering our existing wells. The two production wells are still covered because we have been focusing our efforts on the production wells that were not covered by lava,” Kaleikini told HPR.
The plant director says drilling new wells is periodically required, as existing ones become clogged with rock and less productive. Ormat had been planning to drill several new wells before the eruption-forced closure in 2018. The Hawaii Department of Land and Natrual Resources signed off on the new wells in August.
PGV has an existing agreement with Hawaii Electric Light to provide power to the Hawaii Island grid through 2027. The facility could be ready to reopen as soon as November.
Puna Geothermal Venture will be holding a community meeting in Pahoa on September 18th from 4-6 pm. Find details here.