By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A proposed ban on geothermal drilling at night, introduced in response to recent drilling at Puna Geothermal Venture, passed its first reading Wednesday.
The Hawaii County Council voted 8-1 on the proposal after a lengthy executive session, which keeps the bill alive until its second and final reading, likely to be held Oct. 17.
But the bill may not have any teeth when it comes to PGV.
Thomas Yeh, the plant’s attorney, said that future drilling is covered under its existing permit from the Windward Planning Commission. That permit, he said, covers drilling until the plant reaches 60 megawatts.
Yeh told the Tribune-Herald that he believes the bill couldn’t prevent the plant from drilling at night since the permit was already approved and because council actions can’t be retroactive.
After exiting from executive session, the council questioned Yeh and Mike Kaleikini, plant manager, on this issue.
Kaleikini said the plant would need additional permits from state agencies to drill again, which appeared to make the proposed bill applicable to any future expansion.
Yeh said after the vote that he believes the permit from the Planning Commission, which stays in effect, is the one that would impact that decision, and that he planned to send a letter to the county to that effect.
The bill would limit any geothermal drilling that occurs within a mile of a residence to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
It was introduced in response to complaints from nearby residents about drilling at PGV that occurred nearly 24 hours a day for about four months earlier this year.
“I had to move out of my home because of geothermal impacts, noise being one of them,” Aurora Martinovich told the council. “Yes, it will impede the profit margin of PGV but they’ve been on our back for the last 20 years so let’s try to be balanced here.”
Said Robert Petricci, “Keeping people up 24 hours a day hurts the people.”
Kaleikini said the limits would increase the cost of drilling, the time it takes to drill, as well as the cost of power it produces.
“As costs increase, the end result is the rate payers will pay more for energy,” he said.
The plant finished drilling a 5,182-foot well in July. It started drilling March 1 and was expected to finish in June.
Kaleikini said the plant has no more drilling planned. He said it is still working to connect the well, which will allow it to reach 38 megawatts.
Kaleikini acknowledged that drilling spikes above 60 decibels. He said it averaged about 55 decibels.
The land is zoned agriculture, which allows up to 70 decibels.
Council member Donald Ikeda voted no; Council member Dennis Onishi voted yes with reservations.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.