Council to discuss geothermal energy


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Hawaii County Council is taking the geothermal debate to its source.

The nine-member council will hold a special meeting today in Pahoa to hear input on the controversial topic.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Pahoa High and Intermediate School cafeteria, 15-3038 Puna Road, located about 4.5 miles from the island’s only geothermal power plant.

No action will be taken.

Geothermal power has become an increasingly hot topic at council meetings since Hawaii Electric Light Company earlier this year began talking about building a second plant on the island.

But not everyone can make it to the council’s morning meetings in Hilo or Kailua-Kona, Chairman Dominic Yagong said, which is why the council is taking the trip down south.

“We have been utilized as an avenue for discussion,” he said. “And we really want to give the people an opportunity to participate in the process.”

HELCO recently filed a letter with the state Public Utilities Commission seeking approval to begin receiving proposals from geothermal developers for a new 50-megawatt plant.

The private utility has said that a new facility would likely be on the west side, where the most population growth is occurring.

Yagong said the council is meeting in Pahoa because it remains the hot spot for the island’s geothermal debate. The community has hosted a plant since 1993.

The bulk of the meeting will be given to the Pele Defense Fund.

The group, which opposes geothermal energy on spiritual and environmental grounds, will be given up to an hour to speak. Afterward, anyone wishing to speak will be given three minutes to address the council.

Yagong said the council has already heard presentations from geothermal supporters, and the group is being given its own time to speak to balance the discussion.

“We’re giving the opposition that same equal opportunity,” he said.

While the council only has authority over zoning when it comes to approving new geothermal plants, Pele Defense Fund President Palikapu Dedman said he still welcomes a chance to present the group’s position.

“At least they are listening to the community’s concerns,” he said.

Proponents of geothermal power, including HELCO and Puna Geothermal Venture, which runs the plant in Pahoa, also plan to speak.

The plants rely on steam produced by volcanic activity to deliver power.

Supporters consider it a reliable and renewable source of energy that could be the island’s way to decrease its reliance on oil.

Opponents say the operations pose a health risk due to the possibility of leaks. Some, including the Pele Defense Fund, also oppose geothermal power on religious grounds.

Dedman said the group doesn’t believe energy should be derived from what some Hawaiians consider to be the realm of the goddess Pele.

“A few of us still hang onto the traditions and think it’s important for our future to understand that those things are still in place,” he said.