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Hot topic: Geothermal

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>The audience claps as the Save Pohoiki Community Festival begins at the Akebono Theatre in Pahoa Saturday afternoon.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Dr. Suzanne Wakelin who has a doctorate in physics and lives near Puna Geothermal Venture speaks about her concerns with geothermal energy during the Save Pohoiki Community Festival at the Akebono Theatre in Pahoa Saturday afternoon.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Senior Director of Hawaiian Affairs for Puna Geothermal Venture Mike Kaleikini attends the Save Pohoiki Community Festival at the Akebono Theatre in Pahoa Saturday afternoon.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Attendees are encouraged to sign up for a March on HELCO during the Save Pohoiki Community Festival at the Akebono Theatre in Pahoa Saturday afternoon. The march takes place on August 17th, 18th, and 19th and will span from Pahoa to Hilo.</p>

By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

After several decades of geothermal development, Hawaii Island still lacks adequate monitoring and is need of a comprehensive study on its potential health impacts, a new report concludes.

The draft “Geothermal Public Health Assessment” was released Saturday by a group formed by Hawaii County to study how health and safety issues should be addressed.

The group, made up of 10 Puna residents and facilitated by Accord Consultants, concluded that there have been health effects caused by geothermal development, at least from the 1991 well blowout at Puna Geothermal Venture, and that more needs to be done to study the issue.

The report, which has yet to be finalized, lists seven recommendations for the county: undertake a comprehensive health study; conduct a “meta-analysis” on the effects of hydrogen sulfide; establish a better monitoring system; evaluate effects on drinking water and near-shore ocean environment; ensure the issue is studied by independent experts; study potential contamination at the old HGP-A well; and strengthen public communication and alerts.

The report is expected to be finalized by Sept. 1, and comments will be received. A public meeting on the report will be held Aug. 15 from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Pahoa Neighborhood Facility.

Mayor Billy Kenoi, who initiated the study group, was briefed on its findings last week. He didn’t return a request for comment Saturday.

The report comes as Hawaii Electric Light Co. prepares to approve the expansion of 50-megawatts of geothermal power.

PGV, the state’s only geothermal plant, provides up to 38 mgw.

It has operated since 1993 off Highway 132. A geothermal pilot project began nearby in 1976.

The lack of an extensive health study of geothermal development in Puna as well as the level of hydrogen sulfide monitoring have been a focus of criticism by geothermal opponents.

PGV operates on a closed system but gas releases have occurred during shutdowns or well failures.

The plant releases no more than 10 pounds of hydrogen sulfide a year, Rick DuVoisin, PGV’s hydrogen sulfide training coordinator, said last June.

Six pounds of the gas was released in March when the plant was tripped offline.

Mike Kaleikini, PGV ‘s senior director of Hawaiian affairs, said he was in the process of reviewing the report Saturday evening and didn’t have a comment on its findings or recommendations.

“I can tell you that since 1991 we have drilled 12 wells,” he said.

“We have implemented whatever safeguards, recommendations and requirements, and we haven’t had an issue since then.”

Plant operators, in response to criticism from neighbors, have said that the releases, at least since the well blowout, have been too small to impact public health.

PGV, owned by Ormat Technologies, is allowed to release up to 25 parts per billion of hydrogen sulfide on an average hourly basis without violating its permit.

It had one release in 2005 that exceeded that amount.

Critics say monitoring is too limited in scope to make an adequate assessment, and the study group, which includes some geothermal opponents, concluded it’s in need of “substantial improvement.”

PGV has three hydrogen sulfide monitors on its perimeter. The state Department of Health also has one in the area downwind.

DOH used to have three near the plant but two were removed in the last few years due to funding constraints.

Recently, the county has purchased hand-held and portable monitors for the Fire Department to use in the event of a release.

To view the draft report and make comments, visit www.accord3.com/pg68.cfm.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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