The public will get a chance Wednesday to ask questions about the state Public Utilities Commission halting an agreement between Puna Geothermal Venture and Hawaiian Electric until the company does a supplemental environmental review.

Puna Geothermal Venture regularly hosts the informational sessions, but this 4 p.m. meeting takes on more urgency two weeks after the PUC decision paused the pending agreement because an environmental impact statement has not been done since 1987.

The agreement “proposes to significantly change the timing, scope, and/or intensity of the original action covered by the 1987 EIS,” the March 31 order states. “These changes require supplemental environmental review.”

Extending PGV’s useful life to 2052, as proposed in the agreement, would take it 30 years beyond the lifespan envisioned in the original EIS, the order pointed out.

It also said the proposal aims to increase PGV’s maximum generating capacity by replacing 10 existing energy converters with two larger converters that will increase the power plant’s scope and intensity.

The longer lifespan and changes require further evaluation, the PUC said.

PGV, located in the Puna district of east Hawaii, has been producing electricity from geothermal resources since 1993.

Prior to the 2018 Kilauea eruption, it was providing over 38 megawatts, according to a company press release. Since coming back online in November, it is continuing to ramp up production, reaching 20 megawatts with the goal of hitting pre-eruption levels soon.

Puna Geothermal Ventures
Puna Geothermal Ventures must do a supplement environmental review. Ormat Technologies Inc.

Before the eruption, PGV, which was acquired by Ormat Technologies in 2004, provided 31% of all energy delivered to the Hawaiian Electric grid. The company says geothermal energy is a keystone for the state to meet its 100% clean energy goal by 2045.

The electricity generated by PGV is sold to Hawaiian Electric and distributed to customers.

Under the proposed agreement between PGV and Hawaiian Electric, the rate paid by the utility to PGV would be fixed instead of linked to the price of oil.

By eliminating that oil market volatility, Hawaiian Electric has maintained that the new contract would yield more stable electricity bills. The new pricing model was crafted following input by the PUC.

But the suspension of the PUC case puts implementation of those plans on hold.

“For an EIS to meet its intended purpose, it must assess a particular project at a given location based on an explicit or implicit time frame,” the order stated. “The 1987 EIS specifically contemplated decommissioning PGV at the end of its useful life” in 2022.

Kristen Okinaka, spokeswoman for Hawaiian Electric, said the company will provide an update at the meeting.

“We believe the amended contract with PGV can accelerate achievement of Hawaii’s renewable energy goals, help decarbonize electricity and transportation systems, and lower customer bills,” she said in a statement.

In public testimony, some asked the PUC to require the supplemental environmental impact statement, including former state Sen. Russell Ruderman, a Democrat who represented Puna.

In September, the state’s Office of Environmental Quality Control determined that a new or supplemental environmental review for an air permit renewal was not required.

A month later, three lawsuits were filed challenging that decision, according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. A Hilo judge ruled in favor of PGV in one of those cases, while the other two are still unresolved.

It is unclear what, if any, effects those suits will have on the power purchasing agreement or the PUC decision.

Michael Kaleikini — Ormat’s senior director for Hawaii affairs — told Big Island newspapers last week that the company was reviewing the order and didn’t have further comment.

“PGV is committed to transparent and open communication with our local community, and we look forward to this opportunity to provide an update on operations,” Kaleikini said in a press release.

The public can participate in the meeting through PGV’s website. The link will become live at the start of the meeting.

The public can also submit questions in advance.

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