Last week, I joined a rare educational tour for Big Island Realtors at the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) in Pahoa, Hawaii to learn about geothermal energy on the Big Island of Hawaii; is it clean energy or a neighborhood nuisance?
The Puna Geothermal Venture entrance near Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions in the Puna district
What is Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal Energy is thermal or high temperature energy generated and stored in the Earth. The goal of geothermal power plants is to find, harness, and convert that energy for consumption in area households.
The reason for the location of the Puna Geothermal Venture plant in a rural, residential area is because that area is ripe with existing fractures into which drilling can be done. PVG does not employ the use of hydrofracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) to create fissures, they only explore existing, naturally occurring fissures into the Earth’s crust. They then drill into the crust to reach magma-generated heat and steam.
Here’s how they harness the power:
Geothermal energy harnesses the power of heat and steam from magma deep in the Earth’s core
Why Are The Area Residents Highly Opposed to the Power Plant’s Location?
Ormat Technologies, Inc. is the owner and operator of the PGV site in Pahoa and takes great pride in its history as a company dedicated to clean energy technologies. In other areas on the mainland US, their plants are celebrated for bringing jobs and a clean energy source to areas, creating positive community growth.
At the PGV site, they employ 30 people, most of whom live in Pahoa, and they bring in many sub-contractors for months at a time. These workers usually live in the community renting vacation rentals or long term rentals adding to the health of our local economy.
With all of these benefits, why are there groups in Pahoa who are highly opposed to the power plant in their backyards? Leilani Estates in Pahoa is a lovely community of lush yards and nice homes on one-acre rural lots. It is located less than a mile from the PVG plant.
The experience of some residents living near the PGV plant raises serious questions about the environmental safety of the plant
While many residents of Leilani Estates and neighboring Lanipuna Gardens do not experience distress from the power plant, residents who do and who have been here for decades, are extremely concerned. Beyond the occasional complaints about noise from the plant (most often when cloud cover is low and wind is blowing from the East) they raise serious issues about the emissions from the plant.
In April of 2012, a special session of the Hawaii County Council was called to hear testimony from area residents. The Pele Defense Fund has re-emerged to voice opposition to more geothermal development in this once pristine area. Their concerns and data are very worthy of investigation and anyone considering a purchase of real estate in this area should discover all the facts.