NELHA seeks new lease for geothermal site


The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority is seeking a new lease for the former HGP-A geothermal test site.

The new 65-year lease would allow NELHA to continue to manage the 4-acre property adjacent to Puna Geothermal Venture on Pohoiki Road. The existing mining lease, transferred from the University of Hawaii in 1986, is set to expire June 18.

NELHA Executive Director Greg Barbour said the new lease would not allow for additional geothermal use on the property.

“This is just a surface lease,” he said.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider the lease request Friday.

A staff submittal to BLNR refers to the proposed lease as being for air quality monitoring and storage.

Construction of the HGP-A well, built for geothermal exploration, began in the 1970s. The well was plugged in 1999.

NELHA initially sought a new lease for the site in 2012. Barbour said the proposal would still have allowed for mining. Since that wasn’t the agency’s intent, he said he withdrew the request.

Meanwhile, NELHA and Hawaii County are in talks over conducting an environmental assessment of the property.

Some nearby residents have expressed concern the site was not properly cleaned up following the project.

In response, Mayor Billy Kenoi has pushed for a study of the unlined ponds at the site where geothermal fluids were collected.

The county is processing a $23,500 contract for the study. Barbour said NELHA and the county are also in the process of finalizing an agreement to allow access for the work.

The state Department of Health doesn’t think additional testing is needed.

In a letter to Kenoi, Gary Gill, Environmental Health Administration deputy director, said University of Hawaii at Hilo tests show low levels to no detectable levels of trace metals in the brine and silica gel.

Barbour said he agrees with that assessment but isn’t against further testing.

“We don’t feel there is any danger or contaminates in the area,” he said.

“When the public has a perception there is, it’s important to do what the mayor is doing.”

At the request of Kenoi, the U.S. Geological Survey is also conducting groundwater sampling along the Kilauea East Rift Zone to determine if geothermal production has had an impact. That contract between the county and USGS is for $41,406.

The county is processing another contract for $55,000 with the John A. Burns School of Medicine to conduct an analysis of published studies on hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of geothermal energy production.

In addition to the studies, the county authorized the purchase of new gas monitors to detect any hydrogen sulfide leaks from PGV.

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