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.