Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023|
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Attendees listen as Puna residents testify against an expansion of PGV.
Decades of frustration boiled over Thursday during a public meeting about a planned expansion of Puna Geothermal Venture.
PGV wants to increase its maximum possible energy capacity from 38 megawatts to 46 megawatts through a “repower” plan that will replace much of the facility’s equipment with newer, more efficient machinery over the course of about two years.
Following the publication of the project’s draft environmental impact statement in May, PGV held a community meeting Thursday at the Pahoa Neighborhood Facility. Mike Kaleikini, PGV’s senior director of Hawaii affairs, spoke briefly at the meeting but primarily listened silently to local feedback.
That feedback came in many impassioned — and uniformly negative — forms, from concerns about the EIS’s methodology, to reminders of previous accidents involving the facility, to bitter recriminations and insults against Kaleikini and elected officials.
Most of the oral testimony came from Puna residents citing decades of grievances with PGV. Resident Deanna Wentworth said she watched cows and babies die after a release of gas from the facility during Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014.
Another resident, Dea Rackley, said several members of her family, including her 3.5-year-old grandson, fell ill in April for several days after clouds of gas were allegedly seen rising above PGV, which was echoed by other testifiers.
“How do you drill into an active volcano and not expect it to release something?” Rackley said. “It’s poison that’s coming at us. We don’t need it, and we don’t need you.”
Other testifiers pointed at specific perceived faults in the EIS. Several people noted that the document cites seismological data that is several decades old, and resident Selah Levine stated that air-monitoring data cited in the report are all from monitors located upwind of the facility and are therefore meaningless.
Another testifier, Hannah Hartmann, argued that the entire EIS might present a conflict of interest, because the Hawaii County Office of Planning was selected as the review’s approving agency despite also being engaged in the project by authorizing permits.
Meanwhile, Sierra Club Conservation Committee Chair Cory Harden noted that the repower project might be “wishful thinking,” because the facility still hasn’t been able to return to full generating capacity after being damaged during the 2018 Kilauea eruption, which she said raises additional questions about how sensible the plan is.
“Why should we count on a power source that can be knocked out by another eruption?” Harden said.
A similar sentiment was echoed by Geoff Shaw, who cheerfully noted that Puna “seemed to survive for a few years just fine” after PGV was taken offline by the eruption.
One testifier, Ben Cole, presented a long list of research he said indicates that PGV’s actions are causing increased seismicity beneath Puna, which is in turn accelerating the subsidence of the Hilina Slump on the southeast flank of Kilauea. After the meeting, Cole said he is working with a nonprofit, Hui Ho‘ola Aina, to raise funds for an eventual independent environmental assessment.
“There’s these faulty, flawed and frankly negligent (environmental impact statements) coming out all the time,” Cole said. “The level of blatant corruption is unbelievable.”
Others were less diplomatic, directly addressing Kaleikini as well as Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who also was in attendance.
“You’ve always been an Uncle Tom to me,” said Palikapu Dedman to Kaleikini after critiquing the EIS’s failure to acknowledge the project’s impact on Native Hawaiians. “You’re like a Palestinian working for the Israelis.”
“Enough is enough, Mike!” shouted Emily Naeole, a longtime resident who said her daughter died of whooping cough, which she insinuated to have been caused by PGV. “Ashley Kierkiewicz, this is bull—-t! You think you’re better than us?
“Go home, PGV. We no like you,” Naeole concluded, to applause from attendees.
Neither Kaleikini nor Kierkiewicz responded at the meeting.
The public comment period for the draft EIS extends until June 22. The document can be read at tinyurl.com/mvbd5fkm.
Testimony can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and to email@example.com, or mailed to Michele Lefebvre, P.O. Box 191, Hilo, HI 96721 and the County of Hawaii Planning Department, Aupuni Center, 101 Pauahi Street, Suite 3, Hilo, HI 96720.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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