By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Efforts to restore Hawaii County’s permitting authority over geothermal projects have failed to gain enough support in the state Legislature.
Three Senate committees deferred a bill Thursday that would have re-established the county-level geothermal resources permit as a requirement for building geothermal power plants on all non-conservation lands.
As a result, the county will remain out of the loop when it comes to considering new geothermal projects, said county Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd.
“I think it’s a dead issue this session,” she said, “unless something magically gets resolved.”
Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, said the legislation, House Bill 106, was deferred when it became clear that it did not have the support of each of the committees — Energy and Environment, Water and Land, and Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs.
Ruderman, the Energy and Environment vice chair, said Sen. Malama Solomon, the Water and Land chair, had opposed the bill and had proposed amending another piece of legislation to re-instate the county’s permitting process, which was eliminated last year by Act 97.
But Ruderman said he opposed that alternative, noting concerns with a long list of proposed amendments, and helped get it defeated.
“It had 20 pages of amendments last minute and no one … I couldn’t figure it out,” he said.
The latest version of that bill, HB 932, would have defined geothermal as a renewable energy source and make other small changes to laws governing mining and resource extraction.
Ruderman said he had consulted with others regarding that bill, including the Puna Pono Alliance and former Mayor Harry Kim.
Solomon, D-North Hawaii, didn’t return a request for comment.
Leithead Todd said she was disappointed that neither bill could get approval from the committees.
“The big issue from my department is to restore the authority we had before,” she said, “which was to be able to have a public process at the county level where we have some control over the permits, and the public has an opportunity to participate.”
Approval of geothermal projects would be in the hands of the state, Leithead Todd said. That includes the 50 megawatt expansion being sought by Hawaii Electric Light Co.
While deferred, the bill would remain alive next session. Leithead Todd said she would try to seek its passage again in 2014.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources had given its support to HB 106, after opposing a previous version that would have re-instated a requirement that projects occur in geothermal subzones.
Kim had rallied support for repealing Act 97, noting concerns with both the removal of the subzones and the county’s permitting process.
“It is now fixed,” he said.
“With that it takes away people’s opportunity for input, etc.”
Ruderman said HB 106 was initially not going to get a hearing because Solomon declined to bring it before her committee.
He said he forced a hearing by getting a majority of her committee members to sign their names in support of hearing the bill.
“Some people consider it a nuclear option around here,” Ruderman said. “I don’t think it’s that nuclear, that rare.”
The state created geothermal subzones in 1983 when geothermal development began to be seriously considered.
DLNR has said that the subzones are no longer needed.
Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-Puna, introduced HB 106. She didn’t return a request for comment.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.