Geothermal deal could lower Hawaii island electric bills

HILO — The Hawaii island geothermal power station that was knocked offline by a volcanic eruption hopes to produce lower cost electricity under a new agreement with a state utility, company officials said.

Puna Geothermal Venture and Hawaiian Electric Light Co. are seeking approval of an amended power purchase agreement submitted last week to the state Public Utilities Commission.

Hawaiian Electric said Puna Geothermal agreed to sell electricity from its restored and enlarged facility, the state’s only geothermal power plant, at a reduced price that would save a typical residential customer $7.50 to $13 a month.

Puna Geothermal is working to resume normal operations after the Kilauea volcano eruption that began in May 2018 and destroyed more than 700 homes in lower Puna. Lava destroyed the company’s substation and covered geothermal wells, while cutting off road access.

The power purchase contract would take effect in 2022, when plant upgrades are scheduled to be completed, and run until 2052.

Under the agreement, the rate paid by Hawaiian Electric will be fixed rather than being linked to the price of oil.

The proposed power purchase contract was submitted to the utilities commission Dec. 31. Commissioners will decide whether to approve the contract or require changes following a public hearing and input from the state consumer advocate.

Puna Geothermal would increase electricity production capacity from 38 megawatts to 46 megawatts under the contract. The increase would bring Hawaii island’s electricity from renewable energy sources to 68%, compared with 31% currently and 63% before the geothermal company was knocked offline.

Hawaiian Electric turned to more production from oil after the volcanic eruption caused the loss of the geothermal power.

“The pricing of renewables has dropped significantly in recent years. The owners of PGV recognize that, so we appreciate their willingness to sit down and work with us on an amended contract that benefits customers and accelerates our transition to 100% renewable energy,” said Sharon Suzuki, president of Maui County and Hawaii Island Utilities, a division of Hawaiian Electric.

The geothermal plant previously has been opposed by many nearby residents.


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