(BIVN) – The County of Hawaiʻi said it is not willing to be the accepting authority for an environmental review of Puna Geothermal Venture, nor does it offer an opinion regarding whether such a review is required, in a recent letter to the Hawaiʻi Public Utilities Commission.
In its response to a PUC inquiry, the County said it “does not have the authority to act as the accepting authority pursuant to HAR § 11-200.l-7(c).”
PGV, back online after the 2018 Kilauea eruption shut it down, and Hawaiian Electric are proposing to expand the geothermal generation facility’s capacity from 38 megawatts to 46 megawatts, extend the power purchase agreement (PPA) term by 30 years, and decrease pricing, among other things. But on March 31, 2021, the Hawaiʻi PUC suspended the docket (2019-0333) pending the completion of an environmental review.
In its order, the Commission said the law does not explicitly authorize it to be an accepting authority for environmental review, and is “concerned about assuming powers not granted by law.” However, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the County of Hawaiʻi “have significant relevant expertise to perform the necessary environmental review for PGV that the Commission lacks.”
On June 4, the Commission lifted the suspension of the docket “for the limited purpose of soliciting the DLNR’s and the County’s positions on environmental review.”
The County of Hawaiʻi, in a letter signed by Mayor Mitch Roth in response to the Commission’s inquiry, stated its position on the matter:
RE: Additional Information in Response to PUC’s 06/04/21 Correspondence
Dear Mr. Mike Wallerstein,
The County of Hawai‘i appreciates the additional time to review the complete record and the applicable rules and laws to respond to your questions. We offer the following responses to your questions.
Is the County of Hawaiʻi willing and able to engage with PGV on this matter?
Yes. The County has met with Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) regarding the matter identified in Docket 2019-0333 and, to the extent legally appropriate, will continue to engage with PGV relating to the action(s) proposed by the applicant and the County’s role in these matters.
Based on the information available, does the County of Hawaiʻi agree with the Commission’s finding that the Project requires environmental review, pursuant to HRS Chapter 343?
Based on the facts presented and the absence of the County’s authority to act as an approving agency (see below), the County does not offer an opinion regarding whether the Project requires environmental review.
If the County of Hawaiʻi agrees that the Project requires environmental review pursuant to HRS Chapter 343, is the County willing to be the accepting authority?
No. After review of the statutory and regulatory authorities for environmental review and the facts presented, it is the County’s understanding that Project plans involve potential applications to the County for building permits and grading permits and no other approvals. The issuance of building and grading permits are ministerial acts and do not qualify as an “approval” as such term is defined in Hawaii Administrative Rules § 11-200.1-2. Without the issuance of an approval, the County does not have the authority to act as the accepting authority pursuant to HAR § 11-200.l-7(c).
The PUC previously noted that Hawaiian Electric must provide the commission “notice no later than December 31, 2022 if it desires to terminate” the original power purchase agreement with Puna Geothermal Venture. The PUC directed Hawaiian Electric to continue its PGV renegotiation efforts “in parallel with the pending environmental review.”