POHOIKI, Hawaii – Puna Geothermal Venture is gearing up to drill a new production well. The drilling could last around the clock, 24 hours a day, even though Hawaii County passed a law a few years ago banning geothermal drilling at night. Now, community members are trying to stop the company any way they can.
Steve Dailey has called this forested lot on Hinalo Street in Lani Puna Gardens his home for years. “Unfortunately we back right up here to an industrial complex,” Dailey told Big Island Video News. “They are our neighbors.”
Those neighbors are Puna Geothermal Venture, a power producer with the capacity to feed up to 38 megawatts of geothermal energy to the Big Island’s electric grid. PGV uses the sustainable resource found just beneath the surface on this geologically active land, right in Steve Dailey’s back yard. Dailey is one of many neighbors who has a list of complaints about the operation.
“In the evening it’s lit up like it’s daylight. If the winds blow in the right way, it sounds not unlike an airport. Rotten egg smells, chemical smells of different kinds. It’s disturbing, it’s intrusive, and it’s generally uncomfortable. So that’s what we have here; is a bad neighbor.”Steve Dailey
PGV began commercial operation in 1993, and is the only geothermal power producer in the state if Hawaii. In 2004 the facility was acquired by ORMAT technologies inc, a global geothermal company based in Israel. ORMAT says PGV is environmentally friendly, producing power that is clean, reliable and renewable.
In order to tap into the geothermal resource, the plant must drill production wells. Residents say it is the drilling process that is the most disruptive. The last time Puna Geothermal Venture drilled a well was in 2012; the KS-15 well.
“A constant pounding, a rhythmic metal-on-metal,” Dailey said of the driling. “Very loud sounds. A level of noise that you literally couldn’t get used to.” Dailey said the 24-hour drilling prevented his wife from sleeping.
The noise associated with the activity generated so many complaints, the Hawaii County Concil took action. The council chair at the time, Dominic Yagong, proposed a ban on drilling during the evening hours. “It is totally unacceptable to say that it’s OK for it to happen at 2 o’clock in in the morning,” Yagong said at the time, “or 4 o’clock in the morning, or 5 o’clock in the morning. When you’re talking about a residential area, although on agriculture. We have families that work and children that need to go to school. It is just not acceptable.”
The Puna community testified in force. Former Plant manager Mike Kaleikini stated the non stop drilling is done for safety reasons.
Geothermal energy production is regulated by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources as well as the State Department of Health. But the county does have a say. There was a lot of discussion at the time over whether Yagong’s bill 292 would affect future drilling at PGV. County lawyers seemed to think the bill would result in lawsuits.
The bill passed and was signed into law as Ordinance 12-151.
Fast forward to today: Puna Geothermal Venture says the company will commence drilling once again, this time on KS-16, starting in February. They say that could include nighttime drilling. Kaleikini, who today is ORMATs Director of Hawaiian Affairs, informed residents of the tentative drilling schedule during a community meeting held last week in Pahoa.
Members of the Puna Pono Alliance – which opposes geothermal energy expansion in Puna and keeps a close eye on PGV – were on hand. Many testified in favor of the nighttime drilling ban in 2012. They disagree with the company’s position that PGV is somehow exempt from the law.
Puna Pono points to the DLNR drilling permit issued to PGV on December 16, 2014. They say the permit clearly requires PGV to comply with County law. The meeting remained civil, but there was tension in the air.
Steve Dailey was also present. He siezed the opportunity to question his corporate neighbors directly. It was a few days later when we caught up with Steve at his home.
Puna Pono Alliance has already sent letters to the DLNR asking them to require PGV to show cause why their permit should not be revoked, and also to Mayor Billy Kenoi asking him to support their request to revoke PGV’s permit. Also, the Hawaii County Council is taking up the matter this week.
Puna councilman Greggor Ilagan has introduced two resolutions: One requests that PGV comply with Ordinance 12-151 by restricting drilling operations at production well KS-16 to the hours of 7a.m. to 7p.m.
The second resolution requests that the Office of the Corporation Counsel step in to examine the issue, and issue a declaratory judgement action, possibly seeking injunctive relief.