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Opinion on article by Greentech Media on geothermal in Hawaii

Puna Geothermal Power Plant, Big Island, Hawaii (source: betterplace.com)
Alexander Richter 26 Mar 2015

In a recent Greentech Media piece, it is looked critical at geothermal development on the Big Island of Hawaii, which ThinkGeoEnergy could not left uncommented.

In a recent article published by Greentech Media, the author takes a shot at the question if “going bigger on geothermal is good for the big island [of Hawaii]”.

I thought this piece could not left be uncommented.

The author is a part-time resident on Hawaii’s Big Island and an advocate for solar and energy storage. The Big Island is also the location of the only geothermal power plant in Hawaii. Local opposition has surrounded the geothermal activities at Puna for quite some time. It sometimes is not easy for the outside world to understand that a population that pays tremendously high energy bills is opposed to a technology that would help lower that bill and provide for a sustainable energy solution.

The main opposition to geothermal in Hawaii centers around some of the environmental concerns and issues with the Puna Geothermal plant, like drilling activities and emissions. Naturally it is hard to judge from outside what of that are valid concerns or simply the “not in my backyard” syndrome.

The article talks about the issue of a health study to be conducted regarding the existing geothermal plant. The author argues that there are several concerns regarding security naming lava flows, the closeness to the local population and more. All of this might be true and a concern, if there should be settlements so close to possible disaster zones is a completely different question.

Where things get a bit tricky are the comments regarding the local utility HELCO and its process of the geothermal RFP. Here the author seems to neglect the controversy surrounding the whole process. Some of those discussions were raised in a detailed post here on our site, as well as in several other pieces.

There is still the overall feeling that HELCO never seriously considered a geothermal option and then only reacted if there was no other choice. These are also the comments I have received from some of the companies that have been bidding in the geothermal RFP and felt that HELCO consciously delayed the process. HELCO even signed a contract with a biomass company at a higher PPA price than that offered by some of the bidders for the geothermal RFP right when they cancelled the initial RFP and declared the initial bids insufficient.

The author then suggests that HELCO should wait for another three years until an air pollution study has been finished. This would delay things even further.

Connecting any possible new geothermal development in Hawaii with the local opposition to the operations of the Puna plant is unwise. HELCO could have set up different requirements for the geothermal RFP and with specific geothermal solutions, there would have been no emissions and things would have moved a lot quicker.

There have been several community meetings where the parties that were interested in geothermal development have laid out their plans and answered the concerns of the local population. I do believe that these concerns have been taken serious and would have been addressed, if given a fair chance in a geothermal bid.

Geothermal energy offers much needed base-load power for Hawaii and this at a price point that would help lower power bills for the general public and businesses. It utilises a natural resource and if managed correctly provides energy security and sustainability helping Hawaii to drive economic development.

Wind and solar plants as proposed as “secure” alternative, don´t provide the constant power that Hawaii needs.

Yes there has to be a balance between different energy options, but geothermal should seriously considered as a long term viable option – even if it means under concrete and strict environmental restrictions.

Here another interesting piece: “Mililani Trask, “End HECO Monopoly, Strengthen Energy Policy, Establish Timelines – HECO’s reluctance to embrace geothermal energy projects is disturbing …” in CivilBeat