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Friday, July 7, 2000

Puna plant to double
geothermal capacity

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent


POHOIKI, Hawaii -- Puna Geothermal Venture has announced its intention to double its Big Island electrical generation capacity from 30 megawatts to 60 megawatts.

The expansion, over an unspecified period of time, would add to a growing picture of abundant Big Island energy during this decade compared to electrical shortages in the early 1990s.

Puna Geothermal already produces about a quarter of the Big Island's power.

"We would like to expand as electricity needs increase, with an initial increment of eight megawatts next year," said company spokesman Barry Mizuno.

The company will ask the county Planning Commission to amend the company's geothermal resource permit to give it flexibility, Mizuno said.

The company's wells now supply geothermal steam at high pressure which must be reduced with valves before the steam goes to its ten generators.

The plan is to put a new, 8-megawatt generator right at the well to reduce pressure to the other generators while producing power, Mizuno said.

In the longer run, the company could increase capacity to 50 megawatts without any new wells, he said.

In the early 1990s, the Big Island suffered numerous "rolling blackouts" -- deliberate temporary shutoffs of power -- because there wasn't enough generation.

Now, Hamakua Energy Project, formerly Encogen Hawaii, plans to have 20 additional megawatts ready by early next month and its full 58-megawatt project complete by December, said Hawaii Electric Light Co. President Warren Lee.

Puna Geothermal's 8 megawatts would follow, and Helco hopes to have its long-stalled Keahole, Kona, plant ready with 56 megawatts in 2002, Lee said.

That would give the island "adequate reserves," and would allow the retirement old, inefficient diesel generators, he said.

With a Big Island growth rate of 2 to 2.5 percent per year, Lee hesitated to say it would be more power than the Big Island needs, but he conceded, "We could be on the healthy side."

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