UH cancels Hualalai geothermal projects

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KAILUA-KONA — The University of Hawaii is pulling out of geothermal research projects on Hualalai.


KAILUA-KONA — The University of Hawaii is pulling out of geothermal research projects on Hualalai.

Facing a lawsuit by a group which opposes the exploration, plus dwindling funding and loss of key staff, the university is requesting that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources cancel an exploration permit issued to the university last March. Additionally, researchers are asking BLNR to rescind another permit the board approved for the exploration, according to a request submitted by DLNR Chief Engineer Carty Chang.

The board is set to take up the matter at its Friday meeting in Honolulu.

Margo Edwards, the new director of the UH Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, directed questions to Donald Thomas, director of The Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes at University of Hawaii at Hilo. Thomas, one of the leaders of the geothermal project, did not immediately respond to a call and email Friday afternoon.

The new development is a victory for the Pele Defense Fund, said the group’s vice president, Terri Napeahi.

“However, we suspect that down the road it may resurface,” she said. “To tell the truth, I’d rather go to court. What’s to say they don’t come back again later? They’ve been doing this for 40 years.”

The fund is one of nine plaintiffs that sued the state last fall for failing to require environmental assessments before the project can move ahead. The outcome of that suit is pending.

DLNR contracted UH in June 2014 to continue magnetotulluric and gravity surveys on the Hualalai West Rift Zone. The BLNR approved two exploration permits, one in March 2015 and another in June, although the second permit has not yet been issued due to documentation issues.

The survey, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and state DLNR, would have taken place on 19 parcels on agricultural land. But UH has been unable to progress past the permitting stage and future funding is questionable, according Chang’s submittal to the land board.

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