HILO, Hawaii: The co-chairs of the geothermal working group, Richard Ha and Wally Ishibashi, returning from a trip to Ormoc City in the Philipines, were greeted with chaos in Hilo, as a the opposition to utilizing the island’s geothermal resource grows louder.
Hawaii County recently sent a delegation to the Philipines to see how Ormoc City produces 700 mega watts from its geothermal industry. Delegates included Mayor Billy Kenoi, the two working group chairs, Angel Pilago and his wife, and various island energy industry executives.
But back home, discontent is brewing. On Tuesday, the Hawaii County Council was beseiged by comments from the geothermal opposition, not because of any decision the council was making… but because of scheduled presentations being made before the Council’s Agriculture, Water & Energy Sustainability Committee by HELCO president Jay Ignacio and Innovations Development Group, seeking to employ a native to native model by which to develop geothermal on the island.
The opposition to geothermal has been propelled to the forefront of the current energy discussion. The Pele Defense Fund has made a comeback. Just a short while ago, members of the organization – once thought to be defunct – made a stand outside HELCO on Kilauea Avenue, side by side with participants in the Occupy Hilo movement. A few weeks later, they made noise at a mayoral talk story in Pahoa.
The latest push to expand geothermal has been largely unopposed until now. The geothermal working group began meeting in 2010, and finished a report on harnessing the resource for the island this year. Numerous community meetings and forums have been held, but little vocal opposition.
Meanwhile, the state has been charging forward. The power utility has issued an Request For Proposals for the production of another 50 megawatts of geothermal. Also, a proposal before the state legislature would suspend environmental assessments during geothermal exploration, and a governor whose big plans for the Big Island are making skeptics nervous.
Religion is a big part of the issue. Some Native Hawaiians refuse to accept what they see as the further exploitation of their sacred deity, Tutu Pele.
Passions led to this confrontation outside the council chambers on Tuesday, filmed by Tiffany Edwards Hunt on her iPhone… Kuulei Kealoha Cooper and IDG’s Patricia Brandt argue with Palikapu Dedman and Terri Napeahi … over the use of the Pele Defense Fund’s name in the IDG presentation.
The public also has safety concerns…
This resident of Lani Puna Gardens (EDITOR’S NOTE: subdivision corrected, see comment below), which is close to the Puna Geothermal venture plant in Puna, made frightening connections between the industry and the overall health of her neighborhood. It was a real eye opener for councilmembers. Speaking from Kona, Angel Pilago said it is the council’s kuleana to obtain better data.
Although the law allows for the use of funds to be set aside to relocate residents who do not like life in the close proximity to PGV, one testifier says the county is not helping her.
Aurora Martinovitch also spoke out at the recent mayor’s meeting in Pahoa. On Tuesday, the council sympathized with her situation.
Council chair Dominic Yagong said the current disconnect is the government’s fault.