Action alert: geothermal issues this week

Puna Pono Alliance (PPA) just sent a newsletter, reposted below, calling for immediate community support and testimony on two issues this week. Please share this information, and testify in person or submit testimony by noon of the day prior to each meeting. Even if you read this too late to testify, it’s worth reading to stay up to date on what’s going on.

Email counciltestimony@hawaiicounty.gov (one email for each agenda item) with your testimony, which could be as simple as “I support the Puna Pono Alliance position on Bill 77.” and “I support the Puna Pono Alliance position on Resolution 249-15.”

Bill 77

Committee hearing Tuesday 8/18/15 at 1:00pm
Submitted testimony due Monday by noon

Bill 77 would take the money we fought for to help relocate people impacted by geothermal and instead use it for typical political purposes at the impacted residents expense. IMO this is another shameless attempt to take the few crumbs given to the community forced to live with these toxic power plants for political gain by Council member Illigan.

From PPA’s perspective, the problem with Bill 77 is that it further dilutes the fund, the primary purpose of which is (or should be) the relocation of residents adversely impacted by proximity to PGV. What Bill 77 does is add “staff expenses related to the program, including salaries for staff or contractors, and related fringe benefits.” Thus, the funds could be used to pay anyone for any “public purpose” expenditure in Lower Puna. Unfortunately, this has turned this into a political “slush fund,” particularly after the Planning Director suspended its use for its initial intended purpose. Instead please tell the council to restore the geothermal relocation fund to its original purpose of helping the people forced to live with these dangerous industrial developments.

  • In January 2015, the Planning Department suspended purchase of homes using funds from the geothermal relocation and community benefits fund.
  • The reason for suspension of the program was uncertainty about lava flow then in progress. Some scenarios would have prevented operation of PGV and would have resulted in no further geothermal royalties.
  • The county bought five homes late last year, the first purchases since the program was flooded with applications in 2012.
  • The Geothermal Royalty Fund had $2.7 million as of Jan. 8, with another $1 million in reserve. That would be enough funding to continue with purchases of homes, but not enough for all remaining 30 homes requested.
  • PPA Position: Since the program is insufficiently funded, no funds should be taken from the geothermal relocation and community benefits fund until a formal review of the program is completed and new direction is developed.
  • PPA Position: Under no circumstances should the fund be used to supplement the county budget for required county functions. Rather the fund should be used for relocation and community benefits. As to benefits, the priority should be to provide benefits first to those most impacted by geothermal.

Resolution 249-15

Council meeting Wednesday 8/19/15 at 9:00am
Submitted testimony due Tuesday by noon

Resolution 249-15 is also problematic and I never cease to be amazed by elected officials like Illigan who appear so cold and out of touch with the families that live near these plants.

Two of the WHEREAS statements Mr. Illigan wants passed are patently false (lies)

  • “…..production of energy through such development has continued to occur safely, with zero emissions, and has assisted in lowering the cost of energy to consumers”
  • “….drilling operations by PGV (have) been conducted in a manner consistent with best available control technology….”

We agree that Hawaii County needs a resolution addressing geothermal energy. The county’s geothermal resource permit (GRP) is out of date and does not conform to Clean Air Act Title V permit requirements. The county resolution should be revised to strike the false statements and instead focus the Planning Director on re-doing the GRP, to include conformance with pertinent laws and regulations.

  • The General Plan is an appropriate vehicle to state the County’s intent about future geothermal development
  • Some discussion of geothermal development have included use of geothermal power for local industrial and farming use, without connection to the utility
  • Geothermal plants are major industrial plants and should be built only after as much consideration as a pig farm or school
  • In the County of Hawaii, residential areas are often zoned for agriculture
  • Many of the WHEREAS statements are incorrect. For example, the resolution says, “WHEREAS, the development of geothermal energy to help meet the energy needs of the County of Hawai‘i has a promising future, as the production of energy through such development has continued to occur safely, with near zero emissions, and has assisted in lowering the cost of energy to consumers. This statement is in error in that:
    • Many believe centralized power sources on the grid, regardless of how the power is generated, are wrong headed. See Thomas Lee Travis testimony to the PUC regarding the NEXTERA acquisition of HECO companies. Therefore, the promise of geothermal energy is in doubt.
    • On August 7, 2014 PGV had a serious release that made over one hundred people sick, knocked out over ten people, and may have contributed to the death of two people. It is expected that a major tort suit will result.
    • One quarter of the power on the island is produced by geothermal, yet Hawaii has the highest utility rates in the Nation excluding Lanai and Molokai
  • As recently as 2012 PGV drilled without using best available control technology. Only because of pressure from the County did they do better in 2015. No new regulatory issues were involved beyond the threat that the County’s nighttime drilling ban might apply.

PPA Position: Before approval this resolution must be modified as follows:

  • The wording in the WHEREAS section must be modified to remove the errors.
  • The wording of the recommendations should be modified to read as follows.
    1. The appropriate Hawai’i County Planning Commission should have the authority to regulate future geothermal development in Hawai’i County, particularly as concerns land use and zoning decisions.
    2. Development of geothermal resources should mitigate impacts to people by the use of best available control technology.
    3. Additional development of geothermal resources not approved by Geothermal Resource Permit 2 should not be built within three miles of zoned residential areas. Placement of a geothermal plant should be approved only after considering environmental, economic, community, cultural, and social issues.

Finally, County Council members would be well advised to seek input from the affected community before offering documents such as these for consideration.

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