Kim cancels 2 geothermal studies

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Mayor Harry Kim has canceled two geothermal studies previously approved by the Windward Planning Commission.

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Mayor Harry Kim has canceled two geothermal studies previously approved by the Windward Planning Commission.

The studies would have looked at health impacts of geothermal development in Puna and dispersion of hydrogen sulfide during steam releases.

Regarding the former, Kim said he didn’t think it was necessary, stating there have been health impacts from emergency releases at Puna Geothermal Venture.

“The best analogy I heard is it’s like studying a cold after you’ve had a cold,” he said. “It seems like for the people of lower Puna, we don’t need a study to find out if there’s been a health impact.”

The county selected University of California at Berkeley to conduct the study after it was recommended by a county geothermal health assessment group that met in 2013. The cost of the study initially came in at $750,000, but the university later sought another $250,000.

Roy Takemoto, one of Kim’s executive assistants, said the study was never technically contracted, so the mayor canceled the request for additional funds to end that project. He said the county will withdraw the request for $750,000.

Kim said he canceled a $362,719 contract with University of Hawaii at Manoa researcher Steven Businger to model dispersion of hydrogen sulfide because he considered it flawed. The cancellation was effective April 16.

“We have no source indicator,” he said. “We have no quantity indicator.”

Kim said he wants the state Department of Health to install a monitor at the plant and provide better data, in addition to PGV’s monitors.

Bob Petricci, president of the Puna Pono Alliance, which is critical of geothermal development, said he wasn’t upset by the cancellation of the health study because the group wasn’t confident the consultant would be objective.

“It was the same kind of whitewash we always had,” he said.

Petricci said the group has done its own interviews with residents claiming health impacts.

The Planning Commission also previously authorized $293,760 be spent from the asset fund to look at impacts of geothermal development on Native Hawaiians. Some see it as an insult to the volcano goddess Pele.

Palikapu Dedman of the Pele Defense Fund, which sought the study, said it is progressing, as far as he is aware.

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The asset fund, created to mitigate impacts from PGV, receives about $50,000 a year through the plant’s lease. It was established in 1989.

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

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