The utility that buys power from the plant has asked regulators for a temporary pause in proceedings.

A Big Island geothermal plant is struggling to ramp up its power production as expected, according to Hawaiian Electric Co., the utility that purchases electricity from the plant.

In a letter Thursday to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, Hawaiian Electric attorney Kevin Katsura said Puna Geothermal Venture has been trying increase its generation capacity to 38 megawatts following the 2018 eruption of Kilauea that destroyed parts of the facility.

Despite continued exploration and plans to drill even more wells, PGV has only been able to produce 25.7 megawatts of power.

Puna Geothermal Venture drilling rig District Big Island energy alternative PGV power separator machine
Geothermic vents separate the Puna Geothermal Venture plant and homes in Leilani Estates. The plant is located in the Puna District of the Big Island. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

“This process has taken much longer than anticipated,” Katsura wrote.  

The attorney, who directs Hawaiian Electric’s regulatory non-rate proceedings, also cited effects from the pandemic that have resulted in supply chain delays.

The company, operating on the Big Island for 30 years, was expected to return to its pre-eruption production level of 38 megawatts by now and then to increase to 46 megawatts under an amended power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric inked in 2019.

On May 8, it released a draft environmental impact statement regarding its plans to install new equipment and boost energy output. The Public Utilities Commission approved the power generation increase on March 16, 2022, provided that the environmental study be completed and approved.

Puna Geothermal Venture has become “increasingly concerned” about not being able to meet its targets, Katsura wrote.

Puna Geothermal Venture plant Puna District Big Island energy alternative PGV power separator machine
PGV has been unable to ramp up its generation as anticipated, according to Hawaiian Electric Co. This machinery separates steam and liquid. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

PGV did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. A community meeting planned to be held in Pahoa on July 25 has been postponed, according to the company website.

The letter says Hawaiian Electric and the geothermal plant will do their best to work quickly so that things can get back on track. An update to the commission will come within three weeks, Katsura said.

“As the letter says, we’re working with PGV on a path forward so the facility can provide the benefits of clean, firm energy at lower cost to customers. This is an update of where things stand, not a red flag,” Hawaiian Electric spokesman Jim Kelly said by email.

Read the letter:

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