(Ed’s. Note: This article has been revised to include new information after the County Council’s vote. –AM)
As Puna Geothermal Ventures, prepares to sink yet another well in lower Puna and residents, including former Mayor Harry Kim, testified in protest of the company’s plan to ignore the county ordinance prohibiting night-time drilling, Bloomberg News announced today PGV’s parent company, Ormat, was selling a 40 percent share in its Hawaii projects to an Ontario firm called Northleaf Capital Partners.
“The joint venture will include geothermal plants in Hawaii and Nevada and as well as recovered-energy facilities that convert waste heat at industrial sites into electricity,” reported the Bloomberg article. The deal was projected to be sealed by the end of this month.
According to Bloomberg reporter Justin Doom, Ormat will retain operational control of the facilities, and will use the Northleaf’s $175 million cash infusion “’to support future growth’ and repay existing debt.”
Five-year-old Northleaf, a “spin out” of TD Bank Investment group, bills itself as “Canada’s largest independent global private markets manager and advisor.” The company has branches and investments in England, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and the Far East. Among its holdings are shares in Australian pipeline terminals and wind farms, Solar panel installations in England, and a tollway concession in Colorado. The company currently serves as an investment conduit fo about $6 billion worth of commitments from “public, corporate and multi-employer pension plans, university endowments, financial institutions and family offices.
That announcement came as residents on Hawaii Island were testifying at the Hawaii County Council on Resolutions 58-15, which requests that PGV comply with the county’s Ordinance 12-151 banning night-time drilling activities; and Ordinance 59-15, requesting the county’s Corporate Counsel to re-examine the night-time drilling issue. Among those testifying was former Mayor Harry Kim, who pointed out legal regulations originally protecting the people and environment during geothermal development had been gutted by a later state law. Kim wondered why the resolution was even necessary: “Since when do you as a council have to pass a resolution to say what we pass is law, when it is law?”
But the day ended up with a win for the company. Puna Councilmember Gregor, who’d introduced both resolutions, withdrew the first resolution after a meeting with PGV’s Mike Kaleikini, and the council defeated the second by5-4 vote after a closed door meeting with Corporation Council.
PGV has maintained that its right to do night-time drilling was grandfathered in by its permits from the state. But residents have complained about possible health effects from gas leaks and about jet-engine-like noise levels during drilling. This week Hilo Attorney Gary Zamber, representing the citizen’s group Puna Pono Alliance, filed a “suit for declaratory and injunctive relief” against PGV’s nighttime drilling plans. But according to an e-mail from PPA head Robert Petricci, the organization will await the outcome of the county’s efforts before deciding if it will actually pursue the suit in court. Given the council’s actions, that lawsuit is likely to go forward now.