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Published on April 28th, 2012 | by Andrew


Hawaii Residents Raise Serious Concerns about PGV, Geothermal Energy’s Clean Energy Credentials

April 28th, 2012 by  

The experience of residents living near the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), about 20 miles south of Hilo on Hawaii’s “Big Island”, raises serious questions about the environmental health and safety of geothermal energy and power plants. Longstanding residents of area around PGV’s geothermal plant– now being expanded– were given a long overdue public hearing on geothermal energy recently at a special session of the Hawaii County Council in Pahoa.

Their well-documented, well-presented testimony provides details of the history of what’s now the PGV geothermal energy plant’s development and operations over the decades since it first began producing electricity. It’s not a pretty picture. In fact, it’s very disturbing.

Open venting of geothermal gases and liquids rife with toxic chemicals and heavy metals, poor environmental monitoring, control and reporting, corporate lies, lax oversight and a particularly troubling, even seemingly nonchalant disregard for residents’ repeated requests to local government and state authorities to investigate their concerns and claims command attention and raise very serious environmental health and safety questions regarding geothermal energy’s credentials as a ‘clean, green’ energy source.

Hawaiian government and electric utility HECO (Hawaii Electric Light Co.) are looking to significantly exapnd geothermal energy production. Hawaii, as well as other states and countries around the world, have very substantial geothermal energy resources, and they are looking to develop them as sources of clean, stable, long-lasting electrical power. The benefits of doing so need to be comprehensively, honestly and openly assessed and considered, however, against the costs, and I’m talking here not about the financial costs, but about the long-term, possibly irreparable threats and damage to human and other forms of life, as well as land, water and air.

Geothermal energy technology has come a long way since the 1970s, but if the experience described by residents living near the PGV plant is a reliable indication– and it seems to be– geothermal energy developers such as Ormat Technologies, which operates PGV, along with utilities and local authorities need to respond truthfully, comprehensively and quickly to Hawaiian residents’ legitimate concerns if they care to preserve their own credibility and legitimacy.

Watch the Big Island Video News video of the PGV geothermal plant resident group’s presentation via this hyperlink. Thanks to Oahu News for posting this. And thanks to this determined, civic-minded group of residents who have fought so long to have their voices heard and their legitimate concerns addressed.

The issues they raise need to be addressed, and they stand to benefit not only themselves, but residents living near geothermal plants everywhere, as well as the geothermal, clean energy and clean tech industries in the US and worldwide. That’s if their voices and actions are given the consideration they deserve.

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About the Author

I’ve been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.





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  • Bachdog Whitewolf

    Silly pot smoking hippies! PGV is one of the best things to come to the Big Island!

  • Real facts not accusations!

    Geothermal is the best thing on the big island of Hawaii. We need more geothermal to become less reliant on fuel shipped in. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Also geothermal has not caused any documented sickness. There is a lot of people trying to cash in on false accusations. An example is you have people living in tents and cars and miles away and claiming geo. is making them sick. Try looking at your living conditions first! Perhaps your cleanliness, water source, make shift bathrooms, take a look in the mirror first before passing blame on something else. Get real geothermal is the best and most reliable renewable energy!!

  • Pingback: Perspectives on the Geothermal Energy Association Showcase in DC - CleanTechnica()

  • Taxedtodeath

    In Hawaii geothermal is not clean or renewable.

    That is why they have to keep drilling and abandoning wells and why people are getting sick and against it.

    • Breath on the Wind

      By saying “In Hawaii” do you mean in any place, on all islands for all time by any party? This is the sort of bias that leads to very narrow thinking and solutions with no diversity. It trying to avoid problems we actually increase risk from unforseen circumstances and unintended consequences.

      A sorce of energy can be “alternative” and / or renewable without necessarily being “clean” After all by some measures Nuclear is emission free and alternative but not renewable or “clean.”

      It is part of working with wells and “exploration” that some work and some do not. Successful drilling is a matter of likelyhood and percentages, not necessarily public reaction or pollution.

      As mentioned previously it seems that in Hawaii wells are likely to become clogged easily. Using open wells is only one way to tap geothermal energy. In your rhetoric you would tar any alternative attempts with the same broad brush. Industry reaction is naturally to avoid any public disclosure and you create the monster you might try to avoid.

      The answer is to narrow your focus to one companies specific practces, or better one individual’s perspective and the particular technologicalj or social problem.

      People suffering is always a concern but shooting from the hip is just as likely to hit innocent bystanders. This whole matter could also be read as a zoning issue. Industry and residencies often don’t mix but we need both.

      • Taxedtodeath

        The industry standard is a ten mile set back. That pretty much means you can not do it anywhere in Hawaii as proposed. You may call that rhetoric but a lot of people have already been hurt. What do you call that? Acceptable? A cost of doing business?

        There are much better alternatives why choose a proven loser (in Hawaii) when we could simply install Solar water heaters and shut down power plants instead of building them?

        According to the state over 39% of residential electrical use is to heat water. Are you saying it’s easier to drill geothermal wells and build power plants than to design a program to put solar water heaters on those 39% of homes that do not have them?

        The problems with geothermal in Hawaii are real, the alternatives are there. There is a cleaner, safer, and cheaper way to reduce or eliminate our oil use and turn off power plants.

        The answer is not more power plants, the state and HEI want to sell more power because they both profit from that. If we reduce the amount of power instead HEI loses big money and tax revenues drop.

        Look at the big picture, geothermal is a way to continue the energy monopoly. It just changes from oil to geothermal and lower Puna and the people that live there will pay a high price in quality of life and health and safety.

        Those are facts not rhetoric, I understand this better than some people would like and the bottom line is geothermal fails on it’s merits in Hawaii when all options, impacts, and alternatives are given a level playing field.

        • Breath on the Wind

          It seems that solar energy is already being actively pursued in Hawaii with a new 4 MW expected to be in place at public schools: http://www.renewable-energy-sources.com2012/05/04/conergy-equips-numerous-public-schools-in-hawaii-with-multi-megawatt-solar-power-plants/ Hawaii has been the site of 30 years of OTEC experimentation see: cleantechnica.com/2011/09/23/ocean-thermal-energy-conversion I am sure wind energy is also being pursued along with geothermal in an attempt to reach the goal of 70% renewables (in Hawaii) by 2030 There are concerns to be addressed with Geothermal energy and I will take those you have expressed with me to an upcoming geothermal conference. However, one project that has a bad effect on local residents, while it should be carefully examined for solutions, is not enough to condemn an industry. Geothermal is an important part of Hawaii’s future renewable energy mix. It may not be in its present form.

          • Taxedtodeath

            We have geothermal now. Over 20% of Hawaii county electrical generation. That is more than enough.

            It is not one bad project, it’s the whole program. HGP-A, and PGV.

            You can put lipstick on it but you can not make it compatible right in the middle of thousands of people.

            Most of us are not even on the grid we are independent. We are pulling more than our share already and have paid dearly so others can have power. It’s time you look elsewhere for your added power.

  • Breath on the Wind

    It can be a problem to rely upon only one source or the source that supports your point of view. I have walked on the hot lava fields of the “Big Island” and traveled through a huge lava tubes there. Hawaii is an active island that is continuing to grow through volcanic eruptions daily.

    There is also a nature culture in Hawaii that wants to preserve a natural state which rubs raw against industries desire to change the environment and supply a cheaper, environmentally sound, and readily available alternative to burning fuel oil for electricity.

    As I read the article cited above it appears that there may be more problems keeping the wells clean (always an issue with geothermal) that is combining with a more toxic heat supply to make this site more of a problem than others around the world.

    Whatever the specific issues the area is physically and culturally volatile. Adding explosive rhetoric that suggests “all geothermal is bad” is perhaps painting with too broad a brush and tends to make a bad situation worse.

    Geothermal may not be best applied in this situation. Housing may not be appropriate for this area. But this cannot be used to suggest that housing or geothermal is not appropriate anywhere.

  • Taxedtodeath

    The resource here is deadly with up to 1100ppm of H2S and many other toxins. The geology is the most unstable geothermal site on the planet and there are no set backs or buffer zones.

    It sounds good until you really look at it. It is not clean. Here is an article about this geothermal site.

    The Brimstone Battles / Hawaii / Residents say operators of geothermal power plant are committing sulfuric sacrilege in goddess’ garden / Poison in Paradise


  • Wendell Wiggins

    I have no independent information on whether the claims of harmful emissions are true or not. In any case, this situation shows how any energy technology can harm. It has to be done responsibly. The noxious stuff produced by geothermal has to be reinjected or captured and disposed of responsibly. Solar reflectors have to be sited so that they don’t destroy native plants and wildlife. Wind turbine sites need to consider the impact to birds, bats, and other nearby activities.
    It’s crucial that as the renewable-energy industry evolves and grows that they be held to high safety and environmental standards. Let’s hope that the Newberry geothermal demonstration project shows how geothermal can be done responsibly.

  • Breath on the Wind

    “Is geothermal not a “clean” renewable energy source or is this particular operation badly run?” This is the central question not addressed in the article. I am just as certain that even a clean source of power such as solar PV, badly run can be intrusive and problematic to neighbors.

    We know from volcanoes that gases from deep in the Earth can be deadly. We know from gas drilling that holes in the Earth can expose uis to toxins and other problems. But we also know that geothermal has been operating around the world without complaints. So we have to ask what is different here before we assume all geothermal is “bad.”

    And what about the alternatives? Hawaii has the highest average cost of residential electricity at almost $ .40 / kWh. It is also the only place where electricity is predominately produced by imported fuel oil. Pollution produced is avoided locally only due to prevailiing winds over the islands.

    At some point we have to ask as well what ecology we wish to save. The one that is endangered by new technology or the one that is being destroyed by existing technology.

    More than anything this sort of complaint begs the industry to self regulate itself so that the taint of one operator may not be passed on to an industry, otherwise the industry may find itself regulated from government or public opinion.

  • Taxedtodeath

    The state and the federal government (tax payers) paid for all the years of exploratory drilling for geothermal starting in the sixties when they finally found it they gave it to Ormat.

    The tax payers or rate payers will also fund the Oahu cable project, no one is going to give it to you. So why not fund what UCSD did only better.

    The UCSD Microgrid – Showing the Future of Electricity … Today


    UCSD is a laboratory that produces 42 megawatts. PGV only produces 38 mgw on their best days. We can use UCSD’s model to optimize our own micro grids, for ten billion dollars (the cost of the cable?) we could build lots of them, or just about anything else we want. Part of what they are doing at UCSD is to help places like Hawaii to find the best energy future. In the video I posted they say the micro grid has saved the university millions of dollars. Watch the video if you haven’t already there are solutions and better ways to get the energy we need.

    Geothermal is the corporate path chosen as the way to make the most money, not because it’s the best way to reduce oil or energy use. Geothermal is about corporate profits that will come out of our pockets and at the expense of the health and quality of life of the surrounding communities.

    Other municipalities are funding solar in innovating ways.

    What we are lacking in Hawaii county and the state is leadership and progressive government to lead the way. What we have now is government that looks out for the status quot and special interest not for the people.

    In November 2007, the Berkeley City Council made Berkeley the first city in the nation to allow property owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements and solar system installation as a voluntary long-term assessment on their individual property tax bill.

    We tried to tell our mayor and council majority during the building code hearings for bill 270 the proposed code was not energy efficient or solar friendly. Hundreds testified yet with two exceptions our concerns fell on deaf ears.

    (Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology)

  • Taxedtodeath

    DuPont Says Solar Panels to Cost Less Than TVs
    Mar 21, 2012


    Solar panel prices, which have fallen 80 percent in the past three years, can fall further because the technology is simpler than many consumer electronics that are being made cheaper now, a DuPont & Co. (DD) executive said.

    What else has gone down 80% in the last three years? The cost to drill geothermal wells? Not a chance. How about the cost to build a geothermal plant? No way.

    Solar works and makes sense right now. HELCO capped their solar net metering program and now charges each new system up to $15,000.00 for an individual study in order to hook up. Basically doubling the cost to the homeowner.

    I have a stand alone system and have had my batteries 12 years. The first two out of 16 just failed last month. Battery life depends on several things including how well they are maintained and proper charging. My system paid for itself long ago. I have no electric bill. My batteries are starting to go so I have reduced my strings from 4 to 3. I will replace them when I get down to one string. (a string is four batteries) I just bought what they are calling a de sulphater that will extend the life of batteries two or three times. People around here that are using them including the solar installers say they work really well. Mine was about $160.00

    Solar technology is advancing so fast its hard to keep up with it.

    • Great point on the costs of solar dropping.

      And this: “HELCO capped their solar net metering program and now charges each new system up to $15,000.00 for an individual study in order to hook up. Basically doubling the cost to the homeowner.” WTF?!

      • Too Old to Start Over

        This study is why I”m not switching to Solar.  I don’t want to give HELCO/HECO any more of my retirement dollars than I have to.  If I were building a new home I would be off grid entirely. 

        • Well, if you were going off grid completely, wouldn’t you then switch to solar?

          Not sure if i followed 100%.

          But yeah, that fee is absurd if it is true… and i take it from your comment that it is.

  • Kaehurowing

    This is the same nonsense that was spread by environmental radicals 25 years ago when geothermal was first being developed in Hawaii. None of it is true. Two reasons geothermal is always opposed: it threatens the marijuana industry; radical enviros believe energy availability will fuel development. Thus they would rather align with the drug dealers and put Hawaii residents in the situation where they have to pay twice the costs for electricity than most people do on the Mainland, plus being totally vulnerable to shortages, price spikes, etc.

  • Guido

    Most of the Puna anti-geothermal protesters are marijuana growers. They don’t want normies coming into their territory.

    • Punaresident

      As a Puna resident, and one that has been involved in trying to get the health and environmental concerns recognized, I can assure you that this has nothing to do with pot growing. Geothermal proponents and political opportunists have been touting this technology as clean, green and renewable. This is NOT TRUE. Residents and neighbors of the geothermal facility in Puna have been subjected to toxic chemicals in the “steam” releases and groundwater contamination. This has been occuring at geothermal plants around the world. Thanks to the local residents of Puna and some county council members who are paying attention, this important issue is finally getting consideration.

  • Ross

    Concerning stuff, even though the testimony was not expert. If it isn’t addressed honestly it could harm the industry long term.

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