Big Island geothermal feedback sought

June 22, 2011 8:16 pm 3 comments

Puna Geothermal VentureHawaii Electric Light Company is seeking information to determine the best way to pursue geothermal power development on Hawaii Island.

In a request for information (RFI) issued today, the utility is seeking input from stakeholders including potential geothermal developers and interested landowners on next steps that take into account the renewable energy goals and clean energy policy of Hawaii within the state’s unique community, cultural, historical, and environmental context.

The full RFI is available online. Questions or comments may be submitted via the email listed on the website and answers useful to all stakeholders will be posted online as well. Responses to the RFI are requested by August 31, 2011.

“Geothermal power is already a proven source of firm renewable power that can play an even larger role in Hawaii’s clean energy future,” said Jay Ignacio, president of Hawaii Electric Light Company. “This is a first step and with growing interest and discussions around the state we must consider the best approach because developing geothermal is unique.”

Geothermal development differs from other renewable energy projects such as wind, solar, biofuel and biomass, waste-to-energy or hydro-electric. Community and cultural consultation are a critical part of the process. Typically, a geothermal project must begin with resource identification, resource evaluation, and drilling one or more test wells. These high-cost procedures must precede a formal project proposal. A resource verified through an exploratory well must be found before further steps, including production well drilling and plant construction can begin.

The RFI focuses on the early phase of geothermal development. It seeks:

  • Information from those with specialized knowledge or experience in geothermal development, including well drilling for resource assessment, financing, partnerships (including with landowners), Hawaii community and cultural considerations, mineral rights, mining leases, permits and approvals.
  • To identify interested parties willing to join in discussions regarding geothermal power development on Hawaii Island to share information and propose cost-effective solutions for a viable and efficient geothermal power development process.
  • To discover collaborations and efficiencies for geothermal development, including establishing a geothermal resource sub-zone (GRS) in West Hawaii and exploratory drilling to find new resources in that area.
  • To recognize culturally sensitive geothermal development pathways and appropriate strategies for building community partnerships and acceptance, including possible community give-backs and benefits.
  • To reduce and stabilize electricity prices on Hawaii by de-linking the cost of geothermal power from fossil fuel prices.

The request for information is not a request for proposals for specific projects nor a solicitationfor development or construction, exploration or testing for a geothermal project.

More than 30 percent of electricity on Hawaii Island is generated from renewable resources, including hydro, wind, distributed photovoltaic, concentrating solar and geothermal. Puna Geothermal Venture, a subsidiary of Ormat Technologies, operates a 30 megawatt (MW) capacity geothermal plant in East Hawaii. A proposed purchase power agreement between HELCO and PGV for an additional eight MW is now before the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.


  • Geothermal power results from the environmentally risky practice known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fresh water resources are taken from aquifers in the ground, filled with chemicals, and injected back into the ground to release the natural gas deposits beneath the surface. As a result, the ‘clean’ energy contaminates groundwater. The ultimate enviornmental cost of fracking is currently being debated by scientists.

    • I am not certain whether hydraulic fracturing is required for geothermal wells, but geothermal power and natural gas production are entirely separate technologies.

      Natural gas is a hydrocarbon fossil fuel (albeit a very efficient and clean-burning fuel), whereas geothermal energy simply seeks to heat water using the earth’s elevated underground temperatures.

      Your ground water contamination concern is obviously an important one. As you can see from the excellent USGS article (link below) much of Hawaii’s fresh water table is ABOVE sea-level:

      Further, the first Hawaiian water well was drilled in 1879. That touched off a water well drilling frenzy. See Oahu Board of Water Supply site:

      Consequently, there are literally thousands of old wells drilled through the precious fresh water lens that provides most of Hawaii’s tap water. Below that lens, is brackish and salt water. Only the lighter-specific gravity of the fresh water prevents it from mixing with the saltier water below. Even a poorly designed geothermal well wouldn’t change those physics.

      Also, new geothermal wells would be drilled to 1,000′s of feet below sea level. Obviously, they would be the subject of strict environmental impact studies and would be done much more carefully than their predecessor water wells of the early 20th century.

      God knows, those early water wells were a bad thing, and the proposed geothermal prospects may not be “all good, no bad”, but Hawaii burns about 30% of its imported oil and coal to generate electricity. Wouldn’t it be much better to generate that power using local-sustanable geothermal (or wind, biomass, solar, etc.) technologies than bringing it in by the tanker / barge-load?

      Finally, take a look at what has already been done on the Big Island (Puna Geothermal):

      With Aloha,

  • Erica, I think that you are confusing geothermal power, which uses the heat of the earth to generate electricity, and the process used to harvest natural gas. They are very different.

    To better understand what a geothermal power plant is and does, see

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