Bill would give county more control over geothermal projects


Hawaii County would have greater authority over the approval of new geothermal projects under legislation two state House committees will consider today.

The legislation, House bills 1766 and 2639, both seek to undo some of the changes the Legislature made in 2012 by adopting Act 97. The act eliminated geothermal subzones, areas designated for geothermal development, while, according to its critics, also removing county jurisdiction over geothermal resource permits.

The bills take separate approaches at addressing the issue.

Under HB 1766, a requirement that geothermal projects occur in designated subzones would be reinstated.

It gives the state Board of Land and Natural Resources authority to designate the subzones and issue permits in conservation districts. The bill also returns authority to the counties for issuing permits in agriculture, rural and urban districts.

In addition, it states that proposed geothermal projects must provide the following to receive a permit:

• assessments of geologic hazards; environmental, cultural and social impacts; compatibility with allowed uses in the surrounding area; whether potential benefits are in the interests of the resident population, county and state; and prospect for utilization.

• a project description and potential for health, safety and nuisance impacts.

• an appropriate buffer zone between the development and abutting land.

Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-Puna, introduced the bill. The Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection is scheduled to consider it at its meeting today. The meeting starts at 8:40 a.m. A broadcast of the hearing will be available at capitoltv.org.

Hanohano couldn’t be reached for comment.

HB 2639 would also give counties authority over permits outside of conservation districts but would not re-establish geothermal subzones.

It states that permits shall be approved if the project:

• would not have unreasonable health, environmental or socio-economic impacts on nearby residents.

• not burden public agencies with new infrastructure costs.

• can provide reasonable measures to mitigate impacts.

It would also require the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to deposit geothermal revenue into the special land and development fund, and increases maximum fines for violations of Chapter 182 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes from $500 to $5,000.

Introduced by Rep. Cindy Evans, D-Kohala, North Kona, the bill is scheduled to be heard by both the Water and Land and Energy and Environmental Protection committees at 8:40 a.m.

Evans, Water and Land Committee chairwoman, couldn’t be reached for comment.

If approved, either bill would impact the expansion of geothermal power on the Big Island proposed by Hawaii Electric Light Co.

HELCO last year received six bids for adding another 50 megawatts of geothermal power.

In December, it announced that none of the bids met both its technical and cost-of-power requirements, and planned to request more information from the bidders.

In response to an inquiry, HELCO spokeswoman Kristen Okinaka said in an email Feb. 1 that there had been no change in the status of the geothermal request for proposals.

Puna Geothermal Venture is the only geothermal power plant in the state. It provides up to 38 megawatts.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.