***Commentary*** The Mayor’s Pahoa Talk Story, And The Geothermal Opposition’s Spewing

Image courtesy of Creative Nerds

If you missed last night’s Community Talk Story with the mayor in Pahoa last night, you’re probably better off.   Despite a room packed full of the most active community residents, everyone who has announced they are running for public office, and all the mayor’s cabinet — all the key department and division heads! — the meeting was largely unproductive.  It was by all accounts reflective of what a messy pukefest a community meeting can be.  If you like reality television and drama, though, the Pahoa Neighborhood Facility was the place to be.

The dominant topic of conversation was geothermal and the most vocal against geothermal did not let the raining evening keep them away from coming out to challenge the mayor and his administration’s interest in the Puna-based renewable energy.  There were moments when the mayor’s trial lawyer training came out, calming the ruckus by walking up to the most outspoken members of the public to look them in the eye, as he assured them that he does not intend to exploit the district he and his family have called home for generations.  As he pointed out, his middle name refers to Puna specifically, having grown up in the historic Hawaiian village of Kalapana.  The Pahoa talk-story event, which filled the smaller room of the Pahoa Neighborhood Facility and left about 30-40 people outside to look into the meeting through the window louvers, ended about 9:30 p.m.  Beyond the hooting and hollering, conch-blowing and otherwise lack of decorum, Kenoi stayed to the very end and expressed a willingness to meet with and mitigate the concerns of those who are most adamantly against geothermal technology.  For that reason alone, perhaps, the community meeting was productive.

24 replies
  1. Mathew Mercury
    Mathew Mercury says:

    Thanks Tiffany! I was there too and it really was amazing how many people had to rant and rave about their pet projects. Granted, this was a general “Talk Story” meeting, not a meeting specifically on geothermal, but it seemed somewhat inappropriate for people to talk about issues that only affect them and not the community at large.

    Hopefully Billy eventually got the message that there is a lot of concern about geothermal, and that there are lots of rumors going around. Sounds like rumors are about all for now. I appreciate Billy saying that we should be pro-active about finding alternative energy, and geothermal is one of those ways, but it doesn’t sound like there are any concrete plans yet.

    There is a lot of fear and anger about geothermal too. I live just off Pohoiki Rd and can hear, see and sometimes smell the power plant. I’d certainly much rather live next to a geothermal plant than one that burns oil or coal, but there seem to be some legitimate public safety issues that aren’t being addressed. Back in November when the plant was struck by lightning and hydrogen sulfide gas was released there was no warning or evacuation. I smelled it quite strongly, as did a lot of my neighbors. We didn’t know it was the geothermal plant until the next day when it was on the news. We were told there was no danger, but I have to wonder about people that already have healthy problems and children. Pretty scary!

    The biggest shame of the whole evening, I thought, was that about 1/3 of the total people that come to the meeting couldn’t even get in the door! It’s hard to say it was a true community meeting when so much community was excluded. I don’t know what meetings like that in the past have been like, but hopefully next time they will appreciate that many people around here want to participate too.

  2. The Casual Observer
    The Casual Observer says:

    I think the the anti-geothermal people will “crash” meetings like this because I don’t think Billy and Co. are hosting any other meetings where Geothermal can be the primary purpose of the meeting. Whether it be community meetings, community forums, blogs, county council meetings…you name it. The Anti-geo folks are out in full force. Mainly because the newly re-vamped pro-geo folks, along with their newly-found Kanaka supporters are pushing full force too. Trust me folks, some people live for beefs like this. Take a seat. This is going to get interesting….again.

    I believe too that the public safety concerns are legit and must be addressed openly. Yet I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if we could master the whole geothermal energy thing. I wonder if “mastering” it is even possible. And in this day of big $$$ energy, I have a hard time believing that 100 percent energy independence from oil will actually bring down the HELCO bill of the everyday person. Even with the heat source being right here in our own backyard. A private company’s mission after all is to make money right? Whether it be geothermal or biomass, $$$ is the root of all intentions.

  3. Tiffany Edwards Hunt
    Tiffany Edwards Hunt says:

    TCO: Regarding the need for ho’oponopono in this very-contentious debate, HELCO representatives and the Public Utilities Commission need to get real, sit down at the hypothetical table and present a plan that appeals to the people. We won’t get anywhere with geothermal in Puna until is guaranteed that all Puna residents will see a direct impact on their HELCO bills.
    In Hawaii, the royalties go to the state. Imagine if you could tap Pele’s source in your own backyard, and power your house or vehicle? It’s a scary thought, but theoretically possible.
    The fact that residents do not see a direct benefit to tapping into geothermal makes them very leery. The recollection of that loud sound that echoed throughout the district years ago when the technology failed is a real fear. I am respectful of that, but I respectfully disagree with the opposition that we should reject geothermal entirely. We need monitoring — Toby Hazel, who is calling for the public to have access to internet monitoring of the geothermal plant — is rightfully cautious, living so close to the geothermal plant in Nanawale.
    But honestly it is difficult to listen to people outrightly opposed to geothermal when you know that they gas up with unleaded and depend on imported food and clothes just like me.
    We need to see that geothermal can completely change the economics of Puna if we would look at it as a possibility. I think we ultimately will, and those who are sounding off loudly in opposition need to go for a walk or take a stretch, do whatever they need to do to look at all this differently and come back to the table ready to negotiate for the collective good. The approach to geothermal has to be looking to mitigate and ensure that the public, not HELCO or government bureacracy, reap the rewards of tapping this valuable energy source in our backyard, with health and safety the paramount concerns.

  4. Geoff Shaw
    Geoff Shaw says:

    In reply to Matthew I think what you witnessed at the meeting was the lack of proper channels for the citizens of the Big Island to express their grievances so it happens at these talk-story meetings because that is the only chance to feel that they are being heard. If you try to go directly to the county government with your concerns the chance of actually talking to the Mayor or a county official who can actually deal with your concern is next to nothing. When it comes to geothermal power I have serious doubts that the people operating the current plant in Puna are trying to give a good impression of the viability of this resource. It should be fairly simple to mitigate the noise and smell and the fact that they don’t bother leads me to conclude that they are purposely putting a bad face on renewable energy. That being said if we are serious about renewable energy then we need to look at all the choices and make the best decision for the future.

  5. Pete Altomare
    Pete Altomare says:

    Thanks Tiffany. Good precis of the the situation and possibilities.

    Geothermal is a great potential resource.
    It is a significant resource now. In more than one way.
    And it should be used here, on this island.
    I believe that real and potential problems can be solved or mitigated, and in combination with renewable technologies make our island energy self-sufficient.

  6. The Casual Observer
    The Casual Observer says:

    Hey Tiff, just trying to have a meaningful Socratic discussion here. So what if those people sounding off loudly in opposition are Kanaka Maoli whose stance is one of religion? I.E. — The drilling into Tutu Pele and destruction of their church…also known as da aina? Should they too take a walk? Interested to hear your thoughts.

  7. greg owen
    greg owen says:

    last time they tried to ram geo down residents throats they tied the generated power to a manganese crust-nodule smelting facility where the remnants of the keaau sugar plant are…..hey isnt this where zen owns a bunch of land?nickel and cobalt are the strategic metals too be extracted and the mining tailings were to be dumped in the puna canyon which state and federal officials called the ideal mining dump waste ground…..also large transmision towers are to cross the island to send generated power to the other islands….the proposed sattelite launch site at s. point was to be enabled thru geo power….this new geo push reminds me of a gold rush… govt and the lackeys in the media extoll with fine sounding phrases and appeals to selfish interest to promote this very dangerous very toxic tech ….look at the corrosion at the abandoned facilty at the geo site and when are they going to clean this up?by the way the puna canyon may contain nuclear waste dumped by the us navy-a broken up russian submarine

  8. Tiffany Edwards Hunt
    Tiffany Edwards Hunt says:

    @TCO: I welcome the civil discourse, that’s how we explore solutions. You wonder about my thoughts on whether or not kanaka maoli should take a breather and look at the issue differently — I wasn’t thinking about people’s ethnicities when I was thinking aloud about geothermal opposition, but inevitably the discussion leads to that. When it comes down to it, I find kanaka maoli to be the most well mannered and respectful of everyone involved. As for the spirituality aspect of the geothermal story, I have the utmost respect for the goddess and mother earth. Geothermal is a hot political button issue here, but the fact is our collective worldwide tapping of natural resources is controversial, yet unavoidable. Think about other parts of the world where we tap mother earth for oil? Oil is from mother earth, just like geothermal. As long as we are going to live and breathe as humans we rely on fuel to sustain ourselves. To avoid importing our fuel from other parts of the world, we are going to need to tap some source.
    I believe it is important to be respectful and reverent of mother earth, so I do sympathize with environmentalists and spiritually-in-tune advocates against natural-resource exploitation. But the fact is we all drive vehicles and light our homes with a power source, largely from the HELCO grid. As you indicated in your initial comment, I too try to imagine what it would be like if we didn’t look at geothermal like we do the boogeyman.

  9. Mathew Mercury
    Mathew Mercury says:

    Geoff Shaw, that’s an interesting idea that geothermal might be purposely trying to fail, but couldn’t they easily do that with a couple big “accidents”? Somebody is definitely making money off that plant, so it seems like they would do everything they can to keep it running. I wonder about the opposite view from yours – maybe they know the dangers but are purposely downplaying them. Someone at the meeting last night brought up the point that while hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air and sinks to the ground, most of the sensors are placed up high. Then geothermal can sit back and say, “Well we passed all our tests, our sensors never went off.”

    I wonder if there are any Kanaka Maoli that actually LIKE the geothermal plant? Some obviously view the plant as an offense to Pele, but you could also view it as a gift from her. I can hear the plant from my house, but most of the time when I do I think about how lucky we are. Having geothermal here is a resource that you don’t find in a lot of places in the world. Even though it definitely isn’t perfect, it’s WAY better than burning fossil fuels or trash. It may be tapping in to Pele, but it’s helping save Mother Earth! And besides, if Pele didn’t like it, I have a feeling that she wouldn’t be shy about letting us know. She doesn’t exactly have a reputation for tolerating things that she does’t like!

  10. Matt
    Matt says:

    look at the issue of fracking on the mainland…the power companies say it is fine, and that the chemicals they pump into the land (mother earth, aina) are not going to impact things, but it seems like quite the opposite is true.

    being concerned seems warranted out here…

  11. Geoff Shaw
    Geoff Shaw says:

    I don’t think that the geothermal entity is trying to fail, I just think that they are plodding along providing a sixth of our power demand on the Big Island in a fashion that creates enough noise and smell (both of which it seems to me could be better mitigated) that the populace gets a bad impression of alternative energy generation so we stick with the oil burning plants. If they failed that would create a vacuum that might be filled by something that is better operated. We live on an active volcano so if someone wanted to go all in on the idea that it can provide our power needs they would make sure the plants are located where they would have the least impact on the populace and all factors that could be mitigated would be taken care of, and they would give fair warning to the neighbors if something happened because they would be interested in staying for the long run. They would also be trying to supply all our power needs at rates that would make us want do this.

  12. Buddah Belly
    Buddah Belly says:

    The Geothermal plant now is fracking when they reinject their toxic chemicals under pressure which flow through the lava tube structure of our island and come up all over the place.. What about our once pristine watertable, the largest and purest in all Hawaii?

    What about the fact that we could be using Tesla generators for free, but HELCO wants you to keep paying out the ass every month… This island is surrounded by water, sun and wind, those are sustainable. Geothermal is not, they are constantly having to drill new wells due to the water leaking in, that is not renewable.

    The chemicals they dump in their reinjectors are on a list normally not allowed, but Halliburton somehow is involved and they get away with it (according to someone who used to work there until they got hurt, and laid off).

    Why don’t you all read the Geothermal Working Group Report at: http://records.co.hawaii.hi.us/Weblink8/Browse.aspx?startid=18389&&dbid=1 Click on the Report file, and if you read the last couple reports, Appendix N and O, O particularly will tell you how f’d up Iceland is now because of Geothermal.

  13. Brian Jordan
    Brian Jordan says:

    If you want more affordable electrcity for you new electric cars grow up PGV has been onlione for over 20 year. Mike Q will tell you he doesn’t like me. wehad a personnel disagreement. Now why would I support a company who doesn’t like me. Principle comes before personalities. He haS A GOOD PRODUCT. THE LAWS WILL ALLOW THEM TO SELL MORE. Alternative fuel is the answer. If you have not noticed we are getting screwed by HELCO and The Oil Companies. We have a bio-diesel company who will export our fuel to Oahu. We need bio diesel in each island. if we are cut off from fuel we need enough for CD,Fire Dept,HPD and Waste removal, water pumps. Right now we are victims. It is time to be survivors. Grow up and take advantage of solar wind, geothermal,ethanol, and incinerator fed steam turbines to produce electrical energy. I know some say Incinerator can have better scrubbers and Johnson island can make the ash nuetral. Apply forf an still p[ermit for fuel. We have an inventor on this island who for 1,200.00 can sell you a still which makes 4 gallons of fuel in a few hrs. for half of what you pay for fuel. There are 300W solar panels with tricle charger and battteries for 1,000 plus 300 shipping 3 of these could power your house 15 am circuits. 3k could save you its cost in 3 years. Companies like Big Island Electrical or panels bought from Steve and MJ can make you whole house solar. Loans are available. I would rather pay 200 a month to myself than HELCO.

  14. Gino
    Gino says:

    The more oil prices go up, the greater the profit margin in geothermal production, because by law, electricity derived from geothermal sells for the same price as electricity generated by oil. Those laws are there to encourage geothermal development.

    More geothermal + less fossil fuels = same outrageous electricity rates + bigger and bigger profits for you-know-who.

    Bet your bottom dollar, if Mayor Billy can’t get elected governor, he gets one big money position at PGV or HELCO.

  15. Harley-D
    Harley-D says:

    Better focus folks….

    Currently divergent views are both demanding results their way. Ho’oponopono needs to be sought, look not for an “A” solution or a “B” solution but “C” “D” or “E”. And both agree to apologize with a gift.

    We need reliable LOCAL power generation, at sane rates, but we also need to respect those that 1st built, and promise to protect, what remains – after it was mucked up by shortsightedness – on all sides.

    The pono solution can not be 100% one way. The old way needs to respect outside advice but the new way needs to understand the wisdom kupuna brought.

    I’m just say’in……don’t care if anyone is paying attention. All I can do is remind of seed of thought.

  16. greg owen
    greg owen says:

    imust admit to me geo is a bogeyman (so are the yakuza)….and its because of their behavior and history.dont forget hte local govt sexually molested a number of female geo protesters-they were roughly cavity searched(by heinous design obviously)by a huge and tough female jail guard …i believe emily was onee of these wahines….i write under correction-jack schwiegert was their attorney….as far as the point of we all use this power judicios use ,wise use is the key …ua mau ke ea i ka aina i ka pono…cut back on your driving and other fuel use …conservation of precious re a recent poll said over 80percent of americans will not change their lifestyle until gas prices hit 5 dollars a gallon …..conservation of resources is rarely mentioned ….we american consumers want more more moreand hopefully we shall have a longs drugs at pohoiki soon….. i remeber last time when geo was a huge issue….one sunday the entire frotpage of the hon advertiser contined 2 words -geothermal firestorm —

  17. Ken
    Ken says:

    While I appreciate the apprehension based on the past management of this valuable natural resource that more or less can be described with one word – “corrupt” – it should not preclude us from continuing to explore and use this islands asset.

    One thing Billy could do right now – to ease this apprehension, is to get some form of ethics revision in County Government. You know, that nasty word that generally comes up near election time – but once elected – gets shelved again and again.

    If I were Billy, I would start by instituting as County policy that no county employee – elected or appointed to position to have a 5 year moratorium on the hiring of them by Geothermal after they leave office.

    I think that may go a long way at easing concerns. But I know there are a lot more issues and concerns that must be addressed.

    Humankind does have the intellect, the ability, the knowledge – and has successfully harnessed this type of “mother nature” in the past. It has only failed due really to greed and ignorance. We did put men on the moon!

    You can more or less say the same thing about waste to energy.

    The point is – the issue of electricity dependence (and landfill need) is an issue that is not going away. Nor should we as Americans – and even more importantly – as Hawaiians – accept going backwards. If we are not moving forward in today’s world, we are no longer standing still; we automatically end up just going backwards.

    Additionally, I fail to see this alarming recent mindset that everything “godly” or “spiritual” or “religious” in nature that has the deity of choice being this bad “boogey man” hell bent on the installation of fear and death over what ends up being sheer lunacy as the reason.

    When we accept an aspiring candidate for the office of President of the United States saying that the dream of every American citizen going to college and getting a higher education makes us “snobs” as well as making those college educated student less “faith based” – well we will never get off oil dependency – and the future wars to be fought over that oil dependency will just become more and more religious.

    This can be done. It can be done correctly, respectfully, economically and it can benefit all of us greatly.

    Madame Pele has had nothing to do with how it has been run in the past. Only humans can take that credit.

  18. Doc
    Doc says:

    I went to Iceland years ago and what struck me was the fact that the geothermal plants were VERY far away from ANY human habitation which is probably one of the reasons why they don’t have the same problems as here. I remember reading that Iceland geothermal plants emitted 155,000 tons of CO2, but don’t remember what year that was. There is also the problem that (natural gas and) geothermal hydrofracking is one of the causes of earthquakes and also, of the possibility of groundwater contamination from injected chemicals, beside drilling in ‘a church’, geothermal does have its drawbacks.
    I went to one of the geothermal talks by the company and they said they know of five ‘hot spots’ on the island and they were looking for investors. From what I’ve read, it is extremely expensive to do a start up and investors are wary due to the risky business of drilling in volcanic zones. I don’t know enough about geothermal to make an informed decision, I just don’t want to get stuck with the tab for start up or clean up when a business makes off with all of the profits, which is what can, and does, happen with many energy companies.

  19. geo thermos
    geo thermos says:

    Any sane, modern person will agree with the premise that we cannot and should not rely on fossil fuels. But let’s not put our eggs in one basket. Geo, solar, wind, waves, biofuel, and whatever are only parts of the equation. The idea is to come up with a comprehensive plan to meet our needs. And by “our”, I mean this moku. Put the other islands on hold until we prove that we have the capacity to provide excess power. Otherwise, we are fooling ourselves. Create buffer zones, put every dollar in research to make it environmentally benign, enhance and reward the communities from which you take the resource, and be vigilant and respectful to the cultural values of the area. Do complete and thorough environmental studies to ensure safety. continuously monitor the air, groundwater, offshore reefs and ocean, and by all means, hold yourselves accountable. Only then, can we even begin to right the wrongs of the past and move to the future in interest of our children. Any other thing is pure bullshit.

  20. greg owen
    greg owen says:

    thermos makes the most sense so far ….and why denegrate legit criticism as spewing…see how you can create bad feelings…get real blog with aloha…

  21. jkjones
    jkjones says:

    howzit folks, enjoy reading all the comments. Special mahalo to Tiffany for hosting a public forum. malama Pono gurl.

    For the record, my ohana originates from Miloli’i, although, i was raised on O’ahu.

    I would like to offer several observations, to wit:
    first no one has discussed, with any content, Ormat (NYSE: ORA), aka Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), its “hawaiian”subsidiary.

    In any development, the development company is as important as the development itself. I have issues with Ormat, PGV.

    PVG is a subsidiary, owned and controlled by a foreign Corporation, incorporated in the State of Nevada.
    Ormat is wall street (ORA), NOT mainstreet. Meaning, it answers to it’s stock holders, first and foremost, not to the general public, on its own free will, except where enforeable by law.
    Do you know anyone on the ORMAT Board? Or do you know their assigns on the bottom of the totem pole?
    Can you call them?
    I think not.
    When Ormat (PGV) first produced electricity through geothermal production in Puna–by agreement with HELCO, they sold at a rate tied to fossil fuel indices. Thus, an issue of community integrity and price-fixing accountability remains unanswered. The issue is still a viable one. If they deceive the community about price and cost, what else are they lying about? Hiring native maoli to spin their interests only adds fuel to distrust.

    Secondly, while Ormat has over 500 acres of geothermal leases all over the globe, its equipment and quality remains suspect if not notorious. Perhaps, it’s because they operate in third world countries.
    To produce quality energy at efficient costs and safety–updated and cutting-edge equipmnet are required.
    has anyone asked Ormat when they last upgraded their equioment.

    As a wall street corporation, profit motives may overshadow efficiency and safety.

    As a native, I see the rising cost of energy as being counter-productive to our farming industries. Any farmer can spell out refrigeration costs that have stiffled local produce production and threatens to put us back in the stone age. Simply stated, we can not compete with mainland and oversea produce. Our farms will turn to dust or in the case on O’ahu, to 10,000 homes in the Ewa plain breadbasket.

    In the end, the issue of geothermal vel non, appears, at least to this maoli, as a foregone conclusion.
    What folkz should be concerned about–is the heart of the developer. And from what I have seen of Ormat (PGV), nothing has changed from the first time when those missionaries first set sail from BOSTON HARBOR….JUST MORE SHIBAI.

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