Geothermal company eyeing Ulupalakua

KULA – The company that has delivered geothermal power to the Big Island for nearly the past 20 years is going to look for a place to create a similar plant on Ulupalakua Ranch land.

Christopher Heaps, a representative of Ormat of Reno, Nev., told Kula residents for the first time publicly that his company would be searching about 8,000 acres of leased ranch land for suitable sites to dig wells that could produce at least two-dozen megawatts a day of energy for the Valley Isle.

If it is able to find a viable drill site and get all the proper government permits, Ormat could break ground on the project as soon as next year, Heaps said. It would provide about 150 construction jobs and another roughly 30 full-time positions.

And, Ormat would pay millions in taxes and mineral rights royalties, one-third of which would go to the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, another third to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the final third to Maui County, Heaps said. In addition, the company would assist community needs, such as pay for more security officers in public parks or create a scholarship program, he said.

About 100 Kula residents attended the special meeting hosted Wednesday night by the Kula Community Association.

A few Kula residents, such as Hula Lindsey, said they were skeptical about the project because Heaps said it probably would not reduce their electricity rates even though it is in their backyard.