(ABOVE VIDEO) Report on the Feb. 4 meeting of the Hawaii County Council. Video from the county livestream of the meeting. Voice of Sherry Bracken.
- Two geothermal night drilling resolutions failed to gain traction at the Hawaii County Council on Wednesday. The measures would have pressured Puna Geothermal Venture to adhere to a ban placed on night drilling in 2012. The majority of the councilmembers seem to favor some form of mediation over litigation.
- Puna Pono Alliance has filed a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief against Puna Geothermal Venture based on the company’s intent to drill overnight.
- Ormat Technologies Inc is selling equity interest in certain geothermal and recovered energy generation power plants to Northleaf Capital Partners. Ormat is the parent company of Puna Geothermal Venture, and the deal – which will raise $175 million for Ormat – involves the geothermal plant in Pohoiki.
HILO, Hawaii – Puna Geothermal Venture is set to go ahead with planned, around-the-clock drilling of a new production well in Pohoiki, after two resolutions failed to gain any traction at the Hawaii County Council. The measures would have taken PGV to task for their refusal to adhere to a law passed in 2012 banning geothermal drilling during the evening and early morning hours.
Resolution 58-15 requested PGV to comply with the 2012 ordinance, and to restrict their drilling operations at production well KS-16 to the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Resolution 59-15, asking the county’s Corporation Counsel to step in to re-examine the issue, and take the company to court over the matter if the 2012 law is found applicable. Neither resolution was passed by the council on Wednesday.
Both measures were introduced by Puna Councilmember Greggor Ilagan. The council received lots of testimony in favor of both resolutions. The statements from the public were similar to the what was said back in 2012 when the council held hearings on the original proposal to ban drilling at night. Although they celebrated the ban when it was passed, many residents from the surrounding community are now outraged that the company would ignore the law.
Puna Geothermal Venture maintains the company – owned by Ormat Technologies Inc. – is exempt from the law since they had been given the overall authority to produce up to 60 mega-watts of geothermal energy in Puna before the 2012 voite, even though the actual drilling permit for KS-16 was not granted by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources until December 2014. PGV representatives also argue that night stoppages interrupt the continuity of the drilling process and increase the risk of an industrial accident.
During the public hearing before the vote, former Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim testified in Hilo. “The law is law!” Kim said. “I ask this council to draft a letter of resolution asking the (Dept. of) Land and Natural Resources to take back the permit issued to PGV, because they blatantly said they will violate the law because it does not appeal to them. Since when? Since when do you as a council have to pass a resolution to say what we passed is law, when it is law?”
Tom Yeh, an attorney representing the geothermal company, told the council that PGV has been assured by the county’s own planning department that the 2012 ban does not apply to their operation. The county’s own lawyer wanted to take the discussion into executive session.
Councilman Ilagan withdrew his first resolution, asking PGV to comply with the nighttime drilling ban. Discussion on the second resolution went into executive session. When the elected officials re-opened the meeting to the public, a number of them said they preferred to go another route. Councilwoman Margaret Wille suggested some sort of mediation might do the trick.
Ilagan was joined by Puna’s other councilmember Daniel Paleka in firm support of the resolution. Hilo councilmember Aaron Chung also backed Ilagan’s proposal. In the end, the resolution was voted down.
Puna Geothermal Venture plans to begin the next round of drilling this month.