(BIVN) – As the Puna Geothermal Venture works towards resuming operations following the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano, the state senator who serves the district is taking his concerns to the governor.
Sen. Russell Ruderman shared his October 24 letter to Governor David Ige on Facebook, and said the reopening of PGV is happening “with little consideration to the post lava flow conditions of the area, and surrounding neighborhoods and farms.”
During the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano on the lower East Rift Zone, Governor Ige took action by directing top emergency officials to see to the removal of hazardous materials and the plugging of wells before lava inundated the facility.
Now, with the eruption over and PGV looking to come back online, the governor is being asked to step up again.
In June 2019, the Hawaiʻi Electric Light Company applied to the Hawaiʻi Public Utilities Commission for the relocation of 69kV transmission lines for the Puna Geothermal Venture power plant. On August 22, the Hawaiʻi PUC suspended the docket, 2019-0119, pending the receipt of additional information regarding a renegotiated power purchase agreement between HELCO and PGV, and various related permits.
On September 3, 2019, HELCO provided the PUC with a quarterly report regarding the status of various permits, and reiterated that the two companies “are actively negotiating an amended and restated power purchase agreement, which they intend to execute and submit for PUC review by no later than the end of 2019.” In the document, HELCO said that “according to PGV, every permit required to operate the PGV facility is in full force and effect and is active,” and that PGV “needs no other permit to resume operations of its facility.”
Various permits have been issued since the 2018 eruption, the HELCO document shows. That includes Hawaiʻi DLNR permits for well maintenance (KS-14, KS-9, KS016, KS-15, and KS-13) and two DLNR drilling permits for new wells, KS-18 and KS-17.
HELCO was purchasing 38 MW of power from PGV before the eruption knocked the power plant offline. The Puna facility has permits allowing it to expand another 22 MW in the future at its current location, the utility says.
On October 2, PGV notified neighbors of its plans to commence drilling operations for the KS-18 well on October 16, with an estimated completion by January 16, 2020.
Senator Ruderman’s October 24 letter was copied to various State agencies, such as the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Office of Environmental Quality Control, the Department of Health, the Department of Defense, as well as the Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense and the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. It reads:
Aloha Governor Ige,
Following the 2018 eruption, there now exists in Puna an unprecedented situation involving the reopening of PGV’s geothermal plant. Since the entire situation has changed due to the 2018 lava flow, new analyses are required to evaluate the oversight needed. Thus far, agencies involved such as DOH and DLNR have not shown an interest in freshly reviewing the changed situation. While I understand the hesitance to address something so large and difficult to compartmentalize, I represent constituents who ask me every day about these concerns. I would like to respond with something substantive to address their questions. At present, their impression is that there has been woefully inadequate attention paid by your administration’s departments to the changed situation as PGV prepares to come back online. Unfortunately, I am far finding it difficult to alleviate their concerns or offer to them any explanation as to what they perceive is a lack of transparency in the permitting process.
The extreme changes do not fit into any established category, yet there is a clear need for a review of oversight and safety monitoring. I am therefore asking these questions of several agencies. The normal silo-based style of government oversight does not address this situation, so I am asking the entirety of related agencies to review the situation. In some cases, I will address a question to a particular agency, but I ask all relevant agencies to become aware of the situation and respond.
Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) / Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC):
• Normally a new EIS is triggered by a company’s new actions. In this case, the natural world around the plant has changed. There is no clear answer to who should be triggering the new EIS. Perhaps there is someone who sees the whole picture here, who can understand the need for a new, or at least updated, EIS based on the changes. Isn’t a Supplemental EIS in order at the least, before putting the community at risk?
• The underground geological situation is drastically changed. Did DLNR consider the changes due to lava in awarding new drilling permits? In what way did DLNR consider the new conditions?
DLNR, Department of Health (DOH), Department of Defense (DOD):
• The roads in the area were severely damaged, and many roads remain closed. This changes the evacuation situation. Was this considered in awarding new permits? If so, in what way was this taken into consideration?
DLNR, DOD, Civil Defense (CD):
• Have all emergency and normal water supply sources been restored?
• Has testing been done to ensure that water discharge and injection before eruption remains a safe option after the eruption, considering possibly changed underground hydrographic structure? Has testing been done to confirm the assumption?
• Changes underground to the geothermal reservoir are evident (exact extent of downhole damage to KS-14 and 16 from the magma intrusion at depth is unknown). What needs to be done to reestablish a baseline and institute any needed new safety precautions?
• During the eruption, lava covered three well heads (KS-5, 6 and 11). Have metallurgic and physical damages to the well head been documented and repaired? Is testing required?
• Virtually all the trees, shrubbery and forests that were in the area are now gone. This results in noise and toxic fumes traveling much farther than before the eruption. Was this taken into consideration in awarding new Air Quality permits? In the noise monitoring? In what way was this considered?
• Terrain, communications, transportation, ecology, and demographics have changed at the plant and the area surrounding the plant. Emergency procedure and hazard planning assumptions need to be updated as a consequence of changed demographics and changed road and emergency service availability.
• Does the changed situation require a review and update to plant procedures? Emergency planning, reporting, monitoring?
County CD, DOD:
• Have County and PGV emergency procedures been updated to account for changed demographics, changed road network, and changed topography? Have those changed procedures been approved by State and Local authorities? Is there an emergency response plan?
• Has the DOH air sampling plan been updated to reflect changed topography? Have nuisance noise procedures been updated to reflect changed topography? Has noise testing been conducted or is it planned?
United States Geological Survey (USGS), Hawaii Volcano Observatory (HVO), DOD, DLNR:
• As major changes have been made, does PGV need to do a risk assessment update to the US EPA?
• Have the quantities and locations of fluid re-injection over the last 30 years at PGV regarding its effects on the underground rock structure been analyzed? In what way was this analyzed? Was recent science regarding fluid re-injection’s effects on nearby earthquakes and ground faults taken into account? What was the result of the analysis?
Mahalo for your attention to this matter. I look forward to the responses from the relevant departments and agencies under your administration.
Russell E. Ruderman, State Senator