Can solar and farming co-exist? Dutch trial hopes to prove a perfect match

Renew Economy
by Sophie Vorrath

Swedish multinational power company Vattenfall has unveiled plans to carry out a four-year pilot project in the Netherlands, looking at how a specially designed solar farm can be combined with Dutch strip farming practices.

The trial was announced by Vattenfall last week, off the back of the news that the company had received permission to test a combination of solar panels and organic crop cultivation at a site in Almere, east of Amsterdam, at a scale of around 700kW of PV capacity.

Vattenfall said it was working on the project with “other parties,” and with the backing of the Dutch government, to show how a combination of smart solar and farming practices could maintain land for food production – even improve it, ecologically – and deliver another income source for farmers.

The company said that findings of the so-called Symbizon project were particularly important to the Netherlands, where society “had reservations” about losing valuable agricultural land to solar generation – a concern that is starting to arise more often even in land-rich Australia.

“In the solar farm we alternate rows of panels with strips where various crops are grown for organic farming. This means that far fewer solar panels are being installed per hectare than is usual,” said Annemarie Schouten, Vattenfall’s head of solar development in the Netherlands.

“To ensure sufficient light yield, we use double-sided solar panels. They catch the reflected light from the soil, the crops and the adjacent rows and use it to produce solar energy. The panels also rotate with the sun to maximise yield.”

As part of the project, Vattenfall said a bespoke solar tracking algorithm was being developed by Dutch innovation outfit TNO, to track crop and energy yields and the effects of herb strips, weather forecasts, energy prices and soil conditions.

This algorithm would then be optimised, where possible, in cooperation with Vattenfall and Aeres University of Applied Sciences, a leading university of applied sciences for agribusiness and entrepreneurship in the Netherlands.

The impact of the solar tracking system on crop yield, diseases, and its ease of use for the farmer would be monitored by Aeres Hogeschool, ERF, a private organic farm in the Netherlands, and Hemus, an agricultural innovation outfit – both of which had extensive experience in strip farming.

Vattenfall’s Schouten said gaining approval for the pilot scheme by the Dutch government was a big step forward for the project, and that Vattenfall would now make a decision by the end of the year on its plans, with a possible start date in early 2022.

The trial coincides with the announcement of a much bigger “agrisolar” (or “agroenergy”) project in Europe – a plan to install 660MW of solar panels over 700 hectares of land in Serbia’s Vojvodina province, divided into seven zones for various organic crops.

The joint venture behind that project, Fintel Energija and agribusiness MK Group, say the project would install solar panels on around one-third of the total land area to generate about 832GWh a year, enough to supply 20,000 households, according to Balkan Green Energy News.

According to Fintel Energija and MK Group, combining solar panels with agricultural production creates a microclimate that increases the productivity of the crops and the efficiency of the energy production, while also further reducing emissions and water consumption for irrigation.

In Australia, the Clean Energy Council has called on the solar industry to work with Australian farmers to help solve the growing problem of grid access for new large-scale solar farms, as part of a recent paper published in promotion of agrisolar.

The push from the industry body comes as an increasing number of large-scale solar projects proposed for construction around the country meet opposition from locals over the loss of land previously used for farming or grazing.

The issue has become so prominent in Australia’s regional communities that the Country Women’s Association of Australia recently voted to call on governments to prevent solar farms from being developed in prime agricultural areas.

Like Vattenfall, the CEC paper argues that solar farms can improve both grazing and crop land, while allowing solar farms to be built in areas where the electricity network is strong, providing a win-win for both solar developers and farmers.

As RenewEconomy reported in March, the combination of solar farms with agriculture currently accounts for a small portion of Australia’s large-scale solar capacity: The CEC has identified 15 existing agrisolar projects totalling 1.1GW of capacity across Queensland, NSW and Victoria; the largest a 250MW project at Finley in southern NSW.

All of those projects, however, are “solar grazing”, the simplest form of agrisolar, which involves mixing mostly ground-mounted solar array with livestock – mostly sheep – grazing.

Why Capturing Renewable Natural Gas Has Legs in the Climate Conversation

RealClear Energy
By Mike Butler

When many people think of renewable energy, they think of modern wind, solar and hydropower resources. When they think of natural gas, they think of it as a traditional, finite source of energy – something that’s used and then gone.

But there’s another form of renewable energy that many have overlooked as an option to help meet some states’ emission reduction goals in regulatory actions like New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan and the Garden State’s larger climate conversation. It’s called Renewable Natural Gas or RNG inside the energy world.

RNG combines the strength and benefits of two forms of energy – renewable energy and natural gas – and it turns out it’s been around for as long as humans have been farming. Some might even refer to it as biogas, a byproduct of organic materials mixing with oxygen. RNG in this case comes from multiple sources of organic leftovers and waste.

Methane is the key molecule that makes up natural gas and found in the prolific energy basins across the country that we use to produce, transport and sell energy. Natural gas has many benefits, too. It’s clean, affordable and plentiful here in the U.S. Gas is able to be safely transported in pipelines and is used every day in our homes, businesses, transportation systems and power grid.

But traditional exploration for natural gas isn’t the only way to capture and harness methane – a chemical compound that occurs abundantly in nature does as well.

Besides being found underwater, in wetlands, and from naturally occurring seeps, methane is also released in landfills, water treatment plants, and in agriculture. The same methane that comes from oil and gas production also comes from four-legged creatures that dot the plains and fields of America’s farms and ranches – cows. There are an estimated 95 million cows in America and the small amounts of methane they release can really add up, and if uncaptured, that methane escapes into the atmosphere anyway where it has a significant impact on emissions.

If we effectively collect that waste, and process it, it can become a usable fuel that fits our existing infrastructure for power and home heating needs. And because this resource can be produced over and over, it makes for a great renewable source of energy from our livestock that also reduces harmful air emissions.

While the renewable gas utility market in Canada appears to have a more mature market, the U.S. is catching up quickly with California, New York, Colorado, Oregon and Hawaii all making strides to help utilities incorporate RNG into their energy mix.

For example, promising projects from agribusiness companies like Smithfield Foods will result in enough renewable natural gas to power more than 2,700 homes and business and brings the company closer to its goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25 percent by 2025.

The traditional natural gas industry is also committed to capturing more methane – after all, that’s the primary fuel source they are trying to sell, and every molecule going into the atmosphere is a dollar lost. Since 2000, the industry has invested more than $108 billion in technologies to help capture these “fugitive emissions” which can escape during production and operations.

That money is in addition to the $151 billion the federal government has invested in research and development programs primarily run though the Department of Energy and Argonne National Labs. On top of that, satellites, airplanes and helicopter sensor technology are all helping to detect and reduce methane from entering our atmosphere.

While RNG only makes a small percentage of our energy make-up today, the opportunities are tremendous and should be a part of the clean energy future New Jersey is pursuing. The more solutions we have to meet both our energy needs and environmental goals the better. Plus, consider the significant benefits that will be achieved by removing waste from our agriculture operations and the benefits for rural America. Over time our best minds will continue to advance and refine technology to help costs come down for RNG – just look at the cost of solar panels 10 years ago to today.

So while it may be early, the idea of capturing renewable natural gas definitely has legs for New Jersey’s energy future energy solutions.

Hawaii real estate developer Peter Savio to offer condo-style ownership of solar farm

Star Advertiser
By Nina Wu –

Entrepreneur Peter Savio announced today that he will build a solar farm on Oahu and sell off units of solar in a revolutionary manner – the same way he sells condominium units.

Savio, who formed Savio Solar Power Solutions as a division of Savio Realty, said the solar units will be affordable and available to anyone to purchase and own, including those who live in condominiums, townhomes and apartments, as well as to nonprofits, condo associations and businesses.

“The ownership is what I’m changing,” Savio told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “It’s going to be a condo versus an LLC, a co-op, or a corporation. It’s going to be a condo, which local people understand.”

Savio said the solar farm will be built on approximately 25 acres out of 600 acres that he already owns on agricultural land in Waikele. He was originally planning a subdivision, but says this is “more important and pressing.”

He did not have specific details on the future solar farm’s output size, but said he expected to start small, and to hire a local solar company or several companies to build it.

So many solar projects are built by mainland companies, he said. This solar farm will be designed, built, and operated locally on Oahu.

“We’re testing the concept,” he said. “Right now people are nervous about solar companies, about the contract, about their roof, about everything. As soon as we make it a condo and everything’s local, they’re going to be more comfortable.”

Savio says a condominium style of ownership will be protected under Hawaii law and give owners control, as well as the ability to sell their solar units to another resident if moving, or give them to other family members. It will be easier to finance, he said.

“We’re making it so everyone in Hawaii can buy PV, so everyone can lower their electricity bills,” he said. “The solar moves with them because it’s tied to their electricity bill. When they die, they can give it away to their kids.”

Savio said he came up with the idea for selling solar units condo-style while sitting in on a lengthy, hours-long Honolulu City Council discussion via Zoom a few months ago.

Councilmembers were discussing how solar was not actually helping “the local guy,” he said, and Savio, who focuses on developing affordable housing projects, got a spark of inspiration.

This program will make solar ownership available to those who rent, as well as those living in multi-housing units who cannot install their own solar rooftop systems, and those who want to invest in solar, he said, with no money down required.

“Our program is all about opening the door so everyone can participate,” he said.

Savio said he was going to help the state reach its 100% renewables goal ahead of 2045.

“I want to get us there by 2030,” he said.

Although the project is still at least a year away, Savio is starting its community engagement process,.

Savio said his company will be transparent, and work collaboratively with multiple stakeholders by holding public co-design events every step of the way, from site selection to layout, equipment selection and benefit design.

A community advisory council will oversee equitable and culturally appropriate design. If this concept works, he said, he will consider expanding it to more acres of land.

Savio Solar Power Solutions is now taking non-binding, pre-registrations from those interested in the solar farm at SavioSolarPowerSolutions.com.

US election: how has Donald Trump impacted the maritime industry?

Ship Technology
by Adele Berti

The US is currently bracing for one of the most divisive presidential elections in its history, with Donald Trump and Joe Biden preparing to hit the polls on Tuesday.

As the pair approach the end of their race to the White House, maritime stakeholders have a tough decision to make ahead of them. The sector has seen a dramatic drop in traffic and economic activity since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and is in dire need of financial support and reforms.

According to Cozen O’Connor attorney Jeff Vogel, President Trump has implemented a “mixed bag” of positive and negative initiatives for US maritime since 2016, supporting development in some areas while significantly limiting others.

A Washington-based law firm specialised in maritime matters, the Cozen O’Connor Maritime practice group has been closely following the Trump administration’s work on the industry for the past four years. With just a few days left until the voting closes, Vogel comments on President Trump’s contributions to the sector during his current mandate.

Driving change in port development and shipbuilding

Under the work of Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, many US ports have benefitted from increased funding, courtesy of initiatives such as the Port Infrastructure Development Program. Established earlier this year, the scheme aims to support improvements to port facilities and freight infrastructure with grants rolled out in February and October 2020.

Recipients of the grants include some of the most high-profile hubs in the country, such as Anchorage in Alaska, Los Angeles in California and Cape Canaveral in Florida. “This infrastructure investment hasn’t been in the trillions of dollars as was indicated during [Trump’s] 2016 campaign but this has been a very successful programme by Secretary Chao,” comments Vogel.

Beyond port development, another area that saw increased funding during the current administration is the shipbuilding sector. Specifically, Vogel says, President Trump authorised funding of the National Security Multi Mission Vessels, a set of training vessels that will be used by state maritime academies and then can be deployed in humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations.

“That total contract has been awarded to Philly Shipyard in Philadelphia and is in the range of about $1.5bn,” he explains. “This represents significant investment in terms of the commercial side investment in shipbuilding.”

International profile: the heavy toll of the China trade war

From an international point of view, nothing has raised more eyebrows than the ongoing trade war between the US and China. The most significant trade-restricting measure in the world, this protectionist policy has been in place since March 2018 and looks likely to remain in place were Trump to succeed on Tuesday.

“[Recent terrorist attacks] have had an impact on the industry and we’ve certainly seen that in a number of sailing cancellations in the Pacific trade,” comments Vogel. “That has impacted both US-flagged and non-US flagged operations as China was a significant trade partner of the US. These tariffs, the chilling effect of ongoing negotiations and the continuing standoff between the White House and China have certainly impacted trade in the Pacific.”

Adding to these tensions is a recent fall-off in US-flagged preference cargoes. Under the Cargo Preference Act of 1954, about 50% of Civilian Agencies cargo and Agricultural Cargo needs to be carried on US-flagged vessels.

However, Vogel explains that a recent drop in the available cargo is having a negative ripple effect on the programmes that depend on it, such as the Food for Peace scheme. “This is where agencies like the US Agency for International Development purchase food commodities from US farmers and ship them overseas in support of humanitarian aid disaster relief operations,” he adds. “Those programmes are reviewed each year, and over time they have been zeroed out in the President’s programme.”

Despite recent attempts to restore funding for the programmes, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has diverted the focus away from them, putting more emphasis on national development projects.

The Jones Act and its role within offshore wind development

Having just marked 100 years since its establishment, the Jones Act is one of the most controversial laws in US maritime, one that the Trump administration has so far failed to take a stance on.

A section of the 1920 Merchant Marine Act, the Jones Act is one of the world’s strictest cabotage laws at it only allows US-flagged and built ships to move goods between national ports. It also states that vessels must be registered in the US with 75% of crew formed by US citizens.

“What we saw early on in the administration was mixed messages, though mainly leaning towards not supporting the Jones Act,” says Vogel. “There was a long period of conversations about providing a full waiver of the Jones Act for trade between the continental US and Puerto Rico, [as well as] waivers for liquefied natural gas (LNG) going into New England.”

But under pressures from industry stakeholders, these waivers never eventually came to fruition. “The net result is that there were a few limited waivers that were granted as responses to hurricanes that hit the US, [consistently] with what we’ve seen in past administrations,” he adds.

Despite failing to drive change in this field, the Trump administration still managed to indirectly affect some of the areas the Jones Act focuses on, such as offshore wind development.

“There are a number of questions regarding the application of the Jones Act to offshore wind development,” says Vogel. “The administration has not taken any steps to clarify those issues.”

However, this has not stopped companies like Danish power supplier Ørsted from continuing their wind development projects. “Things have not gone as quickly as stakeholders would have liked in large part because it’s not a policy priority of the current administration,” Vogel explains.

Reducing carbon emissions in maritime

The past few years have seen increasing pressures on the global maritime industry to reduce its carbon emissions, driven primarily by the International Maritime Organization. According to Vogel, this is an area where the US has achieved progress despite President Trump’s much-debated decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“[Withdrawing from] the Paris Accord speaks for itself as to the administration’s priorities for emission control but, notwithstanding that sort of policy change, a number of Jones Act operators have already made significant investments into cleaner forms of propulsion for their vessels,” he comments. “Operators such as Tote Maritime and Crowley Maritime that are operating in the Jacksonville to Puerto Rico trade route have made significant investments in dual-fuel vessels over the past seven/eight years.”

Many shipowners and operators are also investing in increasing their capacity for LNG-powered vessels running between Florida and Puerto Rico through private funding.

“Another area that we’ve seen move forward – despite not being a White House priority – is the control of invasive species through ballast control systems,” he concludes. These initiatives started before the current administration, though their successes have convinced the US Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency to approve new systems that are currently being implemented to reduce the environmental impact of ballast water discharge.

Trump Administration Invests $566K for Solar Energy in Hawai‘i/Western Pacific

By Big Island Now

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing more than $566,000 to improve local business energy efficiency while benefiting the environment in rural Hawai‘i and Western Pacific.

These investments will help farmers, ag producers and rural-based businesses lower energy costs, Hawai‘i/Western Pacific State Director Brenda Iokepa-Moses said in a press release Friday.

“Improving energy efficiency to assist farmers, the agricultural industry and rural businesses is a way to help our environment and our producers,” Iokepa-Moses stated.

Iokepa-Moses added that renewable energy is a win-win for Hawai‘i and Western Pacific communities and businesses and now it’s more important than ever.

“With the real-time adaptions in dealing with the (COVID-19) pandemic, programs like this are no longer just luxuries for the communities, they have become essential,” she added.

Recipients can use REAP funding for energy audits and to install renewable energy systems such as biomass, geothermal, hydropower and solar. The funding can also be used to increase energy efficiency by making improvements to heating, ventilation and cooling systems; insulation; and lighting and refrigeration.

“Businesses grow and create more jobs when their energy costs are lower,” Deputy Under Secretary Bette Brand said. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural businesses, because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

REAP funding has already been awarded to the following companies:

Kawamata Farms, LLC. – $20,000 RES REAP Grant: Funds will be used to purchase and install a 10.27 kW solar photovoltaic system for Kawamata Farms tomato farm in Waimea, Hawai‘i. Project will generate 15,079 kWh or 99% of their energy needs per year.

Hawai‘i Ulu Producers Cooperative – $37,732 RES REAP Grant: Funds will be used to purchase and install a 60-kW photovoltaic system for a commercial food processing operation. Project is projecting to provide 79,701 kWh or $19,367 savings per year.

Hawai‘i Ulu Producers Cooperative – $60,382 EEI REAP Grant: Funds will be used to finance energy efficiency improvements with the purchase and installation of an energy efficient freezer/refrigeration system that will replace 80,070 kwh/year or $24,278 savings for their food processing facility.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

Global Biochar Market Size Worth USD 3.82 Billion By 2025

globenewswire.com

Zion Market Research has published a new report titled “Biochar Market by Feedstock Type (Woody Biomass, Agricultural Waste, Animal Manure, and Others), by Technology (Pyrolysis, Gasification, and Others), and by Application (Electricity Generation, Agriculture, and Forestry): Global Industry Perspective, Comprehensive Analysis, and Forecast, 2018–2025”. According to the report, the global biochar market was USD 1.48 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach USD 3.82 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 14.5% between 2019 and 2025.

Biochar is nothing but charcoal used to enhance soil fertilization. Biochar is a carbon-rich product, stable solid. It is used to carry flavors sweeteners and any other ingredient in chewing gums. It is obtained by precise heating of waste materials, such as wood waste, agricultural waste, animal manure, and forest waste.

Biochar is mainly charcoal obtained by precise heating of waste materials, such as wood waste, agricultural waste, animal manure, and forest waste. It has a broad range of application including electricity generation, pharmaceutical, agriculture, and forestry.

The global biochar market is expected to grow substantially in the future, owing to the growing biochar demand for its health benefits and increased biochar usage in electricity generation, pharmaceutical, and forestry applications in most of the regions globally. The increased demand for organic food is also anticipated to be a prime driver for the global biochar market over the forecast time period. Positive government policies, cheaper raw materials, and rising environmental awareness for waste management are further likely to play a major role in driving the global biochar market. Enhancement of soil richness and plant quality provided by biochar usage are also supporting the global biochar market. However, technological barriers and high investments in remote areas may hinder the biochar market in the upcoming years. Nonetheless, product innovation and emerging markets in the Asia Pacific region will probably open new growth avenues for the major players in the years to come. The manufacturers are concentrating on inventive products are projected will also propel this market in the upcoming years.

The global biochar market is fragmented on the basis of feedstock type, technology, and application. By feedstock type, the global biochar market is classified into agricultural waste, animal manure, woody biomass, and others. The woody biomass feedstock segment accounted for a major market share in 2018. On the basis of technology, the global biochar market includes pyrolysis, gasification, and others. The application segment of the global biochar market includes electricity generation, agriculture, and forestry. The agriculture segment led the global biochar market in 2018.
In 2018, North America was estimated to be the biggest biochar market due to the rising demand for biochar. The U.S. is the major contributor and holds the highest share of this regional market, as a result of huge product awareness in the country. North American countries (the U.S., Canada, and Mexico) are increasingly investing in biochar in industries (pharmaceuticals, agriculture, etc.), which is anticipated to further this regional market’s growth in the years ahead.

In 2018, Europe was the second largest market for biochar due to the rising health awareness in UK, France, and Germany. The growth of the biochar in the overall region is mostly due to the increased consumer awareness about biochar’s application, rising product demand for organic farming from the agricultural sector, stringent environmental regulations, and growing usage of biochar in livestock animal feed are expected to propel the European biochar market over the forthcoming years.

The Asia Pacific biochar market is anticipated to be the fastest growing in the future, owing to the increasing biochar demand from food, pharmaceutical, agricultural, and clinical sectors, especially in India and China countries. Strict environmental regulations, increasing use of biochar as feedstock, growing demand for organic farming and its use as waste management material are anticipated to propel the Asia Pacific biochar marker over the forecast time period. China is the third largest organic food producing nation globally. Government initiatives and various R&D activities are anticipated to contribute to the rising awareness about biochar and its advantages among the farming community.

Latin American and the Middle Eastern and African regions are anticipated to experience moderate growth in the biochar market in the future, owing to the noteworthy investments by international companies for biochar projects in these regions and iimproving economic condition.

Some major players of the global biochar market are Airex Energy, BSEI, Diacarbon Energy, Pacific Pyrolysis, Phoenix Energy, 3R ENVIRO TECH Group, Biochar Supreme, Cool Planet Energy Systems. Research institutions like the Federal Rural University of the Amazon, Aberystwyth University, University of East Anglia, and Massey University are also engaged in the R&D and production of biochar.

This report segments the global biochar market into:

Global Biochar Market: Feedstock Type Analysis

Woody Biomass
Agricultural Waste
Animal Manure
Others
Global Biochar Market: Technology Analysis

Pyrolysis
Gasification
Others
Global Biochar Market: Application Analysis

Electricity Generation
Agriculture
Forestry
Global Biochar Market: Regional Analysis

Hawaii Agriculture Research Center plans to build Oahu solar farm – Pacific Business News

The nonprofit Hawaii Agriculture Research Center in Kunia on Oahu plans to build a 500-kilowatt solar photovoltaic facility on two acres of land owned by the center and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., according to a City and County of Honolulu Planning Commission public hearing notice.

Solar Hub Utilities LLC and the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center are named as the applicants.

In June 2012, SPI Solar said it acquired the rights from Solar Hub Utilities to co-develop and build almost 70 solar energy facilities in Hawaii.

The facilities, which will be no more than 500 kilowatts each, are located on Oahu, Maui and the Kona side of the Big Island, and are mostly ground-based with some rooftop and shade structures, SPI Solar previously said.

The solar facilities are expected to feed energy into the power grids operated by Hawaiian Electric Co., Maui Electric Co. and Hawaii Electric Light Co. through the utilities’ feed-in tariff programs.

Hawaii regulators are re-examining the FIT program, which is designed to encourage the addition of more renewable energy projects in the state.

The hearing on the project is scheduled for Sept. 18 at 1:30 p.m. at the Mission Memorial Building located at 550 S. King St. in Honolulu.

Hawaii Agriculture Research Center plans to build Oahu solar farm – Pacific Business News

Lots of interest being shown in Maui waste plant

WAILUKU >> Some of the nation’s biggest names in waste-conversion technologies are interested in building a plant on Maui.

Maui County’s call for a developer to build the plant is getting a lot of bites.

The county last month began seeking bids to convert the island’s solid waste into energy in an effort to cut down on the amount of trash that ends up in the central landfill in Puunene.

As of last week, the Maui News reports that the Department of Environmental Management had received 111 prospective bidders. Those include industry leaders Jacoby Energy, Zero Waste Energy, Novi Energy and Novo Energy. Officials say on the list are numerous companies or individuals listing Hawaii addresses.

Maui generates between 450 tons and 500 tons of waste a day.

Lots of interest being shown in Maui waste plant – Hawaii News – Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Geothermal meeting gets heated

Geothermal wells tap into something much more than a renewable energy source, members of the Pele Defense Fund and other geothermal opponents told the Hawaii County Council on Tuesday evening.

They drill into the goddess Pele herself, a process that can also lead to the release of a “toxic soup” of chemicals from under the surface during leaks and blowouts, the activists said.

At the council meeting attended by over 300 people at the Pahoa High and Intermediate School, the group and other geothermal opponents called for better monitoring of Pahoa’s geothermal plant, protested past leaks, and urged the council not to allow more facilities to be built on the Big Island.

“We’re not getting a fair shake,” said Robert Petricci, who argued that money used on geothermal could be spent on solar power for residents and other forms of energy.

“To say that we have no other choice … is not a true statement.”

The council held the rare meeting at the school to hear concerns on geothermal power from those most affected by the issue, which has been gaining attention since the Hawaii Electric Light Co. announced earlier this year that it would like to more than double its use on the island.

And they got plenty of feedback.

Eighty-one people signed up to speak, with geothermal opponents, many from the Puna District, where the island’s only geothermal power plant is located, dominating the testimony.

Only six of those who signed up wrote that they planned to speak in support of geothermal power.

It took two hours of testimony before one of them made it to the microphone.

The first, Richard Ha, said the island needs to move away from oil-burning power plants to avoid steep increases in rates.

“The only way I can see that being done is through geothermal,” he said.