HILO — After months of political sparring and passionate testimony, opponents and supporters of geothermal energy may soon find themselves sitting at the same table.
Peter Adler, a mediator from Honolulu, has been hired by Hawaii County to help sort out fact from fiction regarding the health impacts of geothermal energy, a process that could influence policy on the issue for years to come.
Adler, who sees his role mostly as a facilitator, said he plans to establish a “working group” responsible for studying existing data on geothermal impacts and making recommendations for future actions, including the establishment of a health study on Puna Geothermal Venture, the state’s only geothermal plant.
That group, he said, will likely include physicians, University of Hawaii at Hilo scientists, as well as Puna residents, both for and against geothermal power.
“I don’t mind if people have a strong view and a bias,” Adler said Friday, adding the challenge is balancing that with other views and maintaining focus on reviewing data that may not support their viewpoints.
“I don’t expect anyone to come without predilections and proclivities.”
The group, which may have up to 12 members, could be formed in about a month. It would finish its work in March or April, he said.
All of its meetings will be open to the public, Adler said. Its documents will also be public.
The effort does have its skeptics.
Bob Petricci, a founding member of the Puna Pono Alliance, which proposed a health study to the county, said he’s worried the process will be too limited in scope and lead to further delays in addressing concerns over geothermal power.
“I don’t want to be here years from now talking about this,” he said Friday after meeting with Adler.
The group’s proposal would use $200,000 from the county’s geothermal asset fund to pay for a study conducted by Neuro-Test Inc. of California.
Petricci said he’d prefer to see action on that sooner rather than later.
“They’re pushing this past the election,” he said.
Still, he’s hopeful the group will lead to a study that the community can support.
Suzanne Wakelin, who resides near PGV, said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the county’s approach and concerned the process may limit community involvement.
“I think the way the whole thing goes depends on who he chooses to be on the working group,” she said.
Palikapu Dedman, president of Pele Defense Fund, which opposes geothermal power, said he is glad to see some progress.
“I’m just happy they are doing any study,” he said.
“I think this should have been done a long time ago.”
Adler does bring with him some geothermal experience.
Over 20 years ago, he acted as a mediator for the PGV permitting process, which led to the creation of a geothermal relocation fund.
Adler’s work comes at a time when Hawaii Electric Light Co. is looking to expand geothermal power on the island.
That may present a challenge for the group, he said, if some try to exert influence over it.
“The question of whether there should be or should not be more geothermal … it’s not our issue,” Adler said.
Though hired by the county, Adler said he is acting independently, and keeping an arm’s length from potential influences.
“I have no dog in this fight,” he said.
Adler’s contract is for $50,000.
Adler’s consulting firm, Accord 3.0, has a website for the project, accord3.com/pg68.cfm; its email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.