PPA COMMUNITY GEOTHERMAL UPDATE
September 8, 2015 (punapono.com)
News Summary (See detailed stories in this Update)
- DLNR approves exploration permit for Hualailai
- Public hearing on PGV air permit scheduled
- Nighttime drilling ban case continues
- PPA opposes NextEra HECO Merger
- Actions continue on Adler Group recommendations
Hualalai Geothermal Exploration
Hawai`i’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) approved applications from the University of Hawai`i’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) for permission to conduct geothermal exploration in the Hualalai West Rift Zone, north of Kailua Kona on the Island of Hawai`i. See punapono.com for more details and documents.
The first application, approved on March 27, 2015, included dozens of proposed exploration sites that were located in agriculture, conservation and urban zones.
Because the project sought an exemption from the requirement to prepare an environmental assessment (EA), but the exemption applies only in agriculture zones, HIGP was required to submit a second application that was approved on July 10, 2015. The new application included additional sites in areas zoned for agriculture and deleted previous sites in conservation and urban zones.
The requested exemption was approved, also on July 10, 2015. The approval includes a quotation from the exemption criteria that says the "exemption would not apply in Urban or Conservation land use districts or in sensitive environments"
DLNR did not address the prohibition against applying the exemption in sensitive environments. The DLNR also did not address the question of whether the larger project would require environmental review.
Public Hearing on Non-Covered Source Permit
Those concerned with the ineffective enforcement of air quality at PGV have an opportunity to make themselves heard. There is a public hearing on renewal of the non-covered source permit (NSP) for PGV on September 28 at 6:00 pm in the Pahoa High School Cafeteria.
PPA will hold an educational pre-meeting on September 22 at HAAS School at 4:00 pm.
The NSP, issued by the State Department of Health, establishes the regulatory framework for hydrogen sulfide and other chemicals not regulated directly by the Environmental Protection Agency.
PPA and the community have identified many needed changes to the current permit.
- PPA believes the state should regulate based on the amount of hydrogen sulfide released by PGV, not by the readings on samplers at the boundary of PGV. In one recent accident, one sample was taken at the boundary by a PGV employee (the automatic samplers were out of commission) and the claim was made that PGV did not exceed a limit.
- The hydrogen sulfide samplers at the boundary sample the air at 15 feet. This is too high to detect ground hugging hydrogen sulfide released during maintenance. This is too low to detect hydrogen sulfide mixed with steam that rises over the samplers and descends into the community as it cools.
- There are only three hydrogen sulfide detectors. Nolan Harai of the Clean Air Branch has admitted that if the wind direction is the wrong way, these samplers will not detect a release.
- The number of hydrogen sulfide samplers is inadequate to allow County First Responders to make reasonable decisions on evacuation and direction of evacuation.
- The permit does not require sampling for deposits of heavy metals, of caustic soda, or of other potentially dangerous chemicals.
This is the community's opportunity to make their concerns over the DOH regulation of hydrogen sulfide heard. We hope to have a large turnout and encourage each of you to come and testify concerning your point of view on this issue.
Nighttime Drilling Ban
The issue will be decided by Judge Nakamura. Gary Zamber is representing PPA and two individual plaintiffs. The County, State, and PGV are the defendants. PGV is claiming that County Laws are preempted by State and Federal laws -- essentially PGV claims the County does not have a right to pass the Nighttime Drilling Ban. In general we feel we have a solid complaint and think our chances of establishing the nighttime drilling ban as an enforceable ordinance are good.
PPA Opposes NextEra/HECO Merger
Tom Travis, as Vice President of Puna Pono Alliance (PPA) represents PPA in the PUC docket considering whether NextEra acquisition of HECO, MECO and HELCO is in the public interest. After review of thousands of pages of testimony and discovery documents, PPA came to believe that the merger is not in the public interest. The basic rationale for this opinion follows:
- PPA believes distributed generation, mainly rooftop solar, represents a disruptive innovation. Recent examples of disruptive innovations in other fields include personal computers, cellular phones, and discount retailers. This type of innovation often puts the leaders in a field out of business.
- When HELCO residential rates were 42 cents/kw in early 2014, experts in the utility field determined that it was as cheap to buy solar and batteries as to hook up to the utility. But of course both the price of solar panels and of batteries is dropping. By 2020 the utility will have a great problem in producing electricity cheaply enough to compete with the solar off-grid solution.
- Of course, even more impactful is that solar and battery prices will continue to drop after 2020. Only by changing business philosophy and business model can the utility on the Big Island keep itself from becoming a taxpayer burden.
- NextEra does not appear to be the type of company that can manage a change where the utility incorporates unheard of amounts of solar rooftop generation. But incorporating unheard of amounts of solar rooftop generation:
- Will provide Hawaii's people the cheapest (and probably the most reliable) electricity.
- Will be necessary for the utility to survive without becoming a taxpayer burden.
Since PPA has already testified at the PUC, the organization has had its say. But this is the larger community's opportunity to make their concerns heard. Any individual member of the community, part of PPA, in agreement with PPA or not, should testify to express any concerns.
A complete copy of Travis's testimony to the PUC is available at punapono.com
Status of Actions Recommended by Adler Group
HGPA Soil Sample Results have been released
Recently the Mayor's office sent a copy of the soil sample report from the site of the HGPA open ponds. The study showed no out of specification concentrations of metals had built up in the soil.
Water Study to be Released in Next Few Months
The USGS has completed sampling and field work in conducting a study that will evaluate the effect of geothermal on water resources. The study is expected to be released before the end of the year. The study's author, Bill Evans has said that, "Rest assured however, that if [USGS} did find any inorganic species (e.g., heavy metals) at levels of concern in any of the public supply wells (including the well for your neighborhood), that information would have been turned over to the county immediately."
Proposals for Health Study Under Review
A Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued asking for study proposals to evaluate the impact of geothermal on those who live nearest the plant. Word of mouth indicates three proposals were submitted before the June deadline. Now the County is evaluating the proposals and is due to announce a winner in the next month or so. PPA welcomes a meaningful study, but has expressed concern over the County's process for picking the winning proposal. That process is not transparent and apparently does not allow for meaningful community review before the decision is made. PPA will not support this study unless review of the study proposal shows that it meets the requirements and intent of the recommendations of the Geothermal Public Health Assessment Working Group Final Report.
Native Hawaiian Psycho-Social Impact Study
In January the Windward Planning Commission approved a study to evaluate the impact of geothermal and other types of development on Native Hawaiians. The study was sponsored by PPA, Sierra Club, Pele Defense Fund, and several members of the Geothermal Public Health Assessment Working Group. In March the Windward Planning Commission rescinded the January approval, expressing concerns about how the study would be funded. The WPC asked the Planning Department to describe what process was needed to make the study doable. The Planning Department has taken no action to define that process, despite the Planning Director's giving his word at the March meeting that he would expedite the process.