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Geothermal bill evolves


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Legislation seeking to change regulations regarding geothermal development remains alive though it’s not quite the same bill with which lawmakers started.

House Bill 106 initially sought to repeal Act 97, legislation adopted last year that eliminated geothermal subzones, a land use designation first created when the state began pursuing geothermal development but since seen as too burdensome by state land managers.

Critics of the act, who believe geothermal development should be restricted to designated areas, say it removed too many regulations for tapping into the state’s underground heat sources, including a county permitting process.

The House Committee on Water and Land replaced HB 106 last month with another geothermal bill. The new version also would re-establish the geothermal resource permit process for counties but would not reinstate the subzones.

It also would require a “buffer zone” between new geothermal development and other lands, and assessments for new projects that include environmental and social impacts, and the development’s compatibility with nearby land uses.

The amended version passed the House and will be considered Thursday by the Senate committees on Energy and Environment, Water and Land, and Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs.

Former Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim had been a proponent of the bill’s original version.

Kim said Tuesday that he still supports the reinstatement of the subzones and will attend the hearing Thursday to encourage the committees to put that language back in the bill.

While not opposed to geothermal power, he said he believes Act 97 takes away county “home rule” and should be completely repealed.

“We should go back to the original act that created the development of geothermal for the state of Hawaii,” Kim said.

“I’m not in support of this bill as is.”

Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, Kohala, is the chair of the House Committee on Water and Land. She couldn’t be reached for comment on the amended version.

In his written testimony, DLNR Chair William Aila said that removal of subzones “reduced a layer of state regulation concerning geothermal development.”

“Eliminating geothermal subzone designation requirements streamlined a portion of the regulatory process and could encourage developers who are ready and willing to help Hawaii meet its clean energy goals,” he said.

Aila also wrote the department is supportive of restoring the counties’ authority to issue geothermal resource permits, which the act removed.

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