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Protect the Health and Safety of the People from Geothermal Development

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Petition for the Health and Safety of the
People and Aina of Hawaii County

We, an alliance of people of Hawaii, taking inspiration from our kapuna and our keiki, hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men and women on the Big Island are created equal and their safety and health are inalienable rights. These rights take precedent over the rights of corporations and governments to make profits at the expense of the people.

To protect the health and safety of the people of Hawaii and, the Aina, it is the duty of the people to take peaceful and democratic action, and to elect leaders who will take steps to protect us.

The history of geothermal plants in Hawaii have been a long train of abuses and usurpations. To prove this, let these facts be submitted to a candid world:

When the first geothermal plant in Puna, HGP-A, was drilled in 1976, the project was presented as a strictly experimental, two year demonstration project and not a production well. In 1982, despite commitments to the public, a three-megawatt power plant went on line. No community meetings were held explaining the change. The geothermal power plant continued for eight years and was shut down in 1989. HGP-A dumped the toxic geothermal brine into unlined ponds that fouled the air, land and water. Federal regulatory agencies deemed their effluent abatement systems unacceptable. From Harry Kim's testimony to the Hawaii Environmental Council,

There has already been a major accident at PGV in 1991, when PGV had a well blow out that vented more than 2,200 pounds of hydrogen sulfide over a 31 hour period, killing animals and forcing the evacuation of at least 75 Puna Residents. LA Times, June 15, 1991

Based on a detailed review of emergency response capabilities at PGV in 1996, the EPA made numerous safety recommendations, including the development of a site specific evacuation plan. Sixteen years later, these recommendations have not been implemented and we still do not have an evacuation plan for the local community, even though our records show 18 declared civil defense emergencies at PGV between 1991 and 1999. We have not been able to obtain the records after that. We believe there have been many more releases. ( )

Since then, PGV's parent company Ormat has gone to great lengths to insulate themselves from financial liability in the event of a catastrophic accident. If you look up Puna Geothermal Venture in the state of Hawaii's business registration website, you see the stated owners for Puna Geothermal are two entities named “Orni8 LLC and OrPuna LLC.” It is clear they are designed to protect Ormat's assets from liability.

PGV does not own the power plant that they are operating in Puna. Ormat's 2011 10K report states that,”Pursuant to a 31-year head lease, PGV leased its geothermal power plant to an unrelated company in return for prepaid lease payments in the total amount of $83.0 million. The unrelated company simultaneously leased back the Puna Power Plant to PGV under a 23-year lease.” This means in the event of a catastrophic accident or liability for toxic releases, PGV would have no assets to garner, and Ormat is protected by LLC’s.

There has been continuous drilling, despite statements made in 2002-2003 that due to PGV being the hottest well in the world, future drilling might not be necessary. No further communications to the public on why drilling continues to this day. (From Harry Kim's testimony to the Hawaii Environmental Council)

PGV calls their system "closed loop", but they often release hydrogen sulfide into the air when they have problems at the plant. As recently as November 7, 2011 PGV was affected by a lightning strike which tripped the plant offline and caused hydrogen sulfide gas to be vented.

PGV uses 60,000 gallons of highly flammable, toxic pentane as part of what they call a “closed loop” process. They lose an average of 40-100 gallons of Pentane a day into the environment in this so called “closed loop” process. (From PGV testimony Hawaii County Council Meeting, July 2, 2012, also Environmental Administrative Decisions p. 274

PGV is pumping 3,000 gallons per minute of toxic brine back into injection wells. If a pentane explosion, lava flow, earthquake or hurricane breaks their pipes, it would take minutes for the air, land and water to be irrevocably fouled.

The geothermal brine contains hydrogen sulfide, lead, nickel, chromium, and mercury. They call their system “closed loop”, but they also accumulate geothermal scale in steam/brine separators. This scale is removed during scheduled plant outages. (Goddard and Goddard, engineering and environmental studies, 1991. also, letter from Ormat, July 13, 2012)

DOH has cited PGV for uncontrolled steam releases. The Hawaii Department of Health reported on April 12, 2006 – that PGV was cited for exceeding its one-hour average of 25 parts per billion of H2S on August 25, 2005. During a cleanout process, station B recorded a one-hour average of 789 parts per billion. (DOH news release dated April 12, 2006, Harry Kim's testimony)

With the passage of ACT 097 this year, the counties have been stripped of their land use control over geothermal development. The county no longer has authority over the granting of the Geothermal Resource Permit which requires emergency plan development by PGV and to address noise levels and H2S emissions. (From Harry Kim's testimony to the Hawaii Environmental Council)

Also with Act 097, Geothermal subzones were eliminated. This means geothermal exploratory drilling and a power plant could be built almost anywhere in this state. This includes agricultural and rural districts. Note that 50% of the people on the Hawaiian Island reside in or about agricultural and rural zoned areas. (From Harry Kim's testimony to the Hawaii Environmental Council) 

Helco is preparing an RFP for 50 MW of additional Geothermal power on the Big Island in 2012. They say in a January 6, 2012 press release, “HELCO will undertake technical studies . . . (which) include the need for more transmission lines if the geothermal power is all from the east side of the island.” Helco press release January 6, 2012

Although Puna produces 20 percent of Big Island electricity requirements at PGV and another 10 percent at Shipman steam power plant in Kea’au, totaling 30 percent of Big Island power, Puna residents only use 6 percent of total power, in part because many Puna residents are off-grid, conserve and produce their own power. Any additional power will not be used in Puna.

Advocates say geothermal power will lower rates, but the Big Island has 20 percent geothermal power now and has higher rates than Maui and Oahu which have no geothermal power. (Helco website)

During 2011, a total of $1.8 million in geothermal royalties was received from PGV by the state of Hawaii. They in turn distributed 30 percent to the County of Hawaii, totaling $568,000. Additionally, 20 percent, $378,000 was distributed to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. If you follow the money trail, the geothermal supporters all have two things in common: they live more than 10 miles from the plant and they are making money from geothermal plants.

In response to recent discussion about expansion of geothermal power, USGS Hawai’i Volcano Observatory highlighted the hazards involved in geothermal power plants in high risk zones, stating, “The effect of an eruption within a geothermal power development could be severe, and the site could be deeply buried by lava.”

Given these facts, we petition the Mayor to reconsider his vetoes which disregard the health and safety of the people. If that does not happen, we petition the Hawaii County Council to override the veto of these bills. We also petition for long overdue environmental monitoring, health studies and an evacuation plan that will give people immediate notice and egress in the event of another catastrophic accident at PGV.

We petition the Council to stop any further geothermal development that will put the people and Aina in harms way. We ask you to look into your hearts and make the right decisions, knowing that if you disregard our petition, you will be risking our lives for the sake of profits and political careers. We ask you to protect us, our keiki and kapuna, from having to suffer and possibly die for geothermal power and dollars.

Mahalo for your consideration.

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