HILO » Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi plans to implement the recommendations of a panel on geothermal power, including a proposal that the county commission a study on the public health effects of the state’s only geothermal power plant.
Public safety and health is paramount, Kenoi told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald Sunday. The county needs to determine what harm, if any, is caused by geothermal power production, he said.
The mayor commissioned the group’s report in response to concerns in Puna about existing geothermal development and Hawaii Electric Light Co.’s plans to expand geothermal power.
The report suggests the study examine how hydrogen sulfide, a gas that may be released into the air when geothermal wells are operated, affects health. It also proposes that the study look at whether heavy metals and chemicals from geothermal development have affected drinking water.
The Puna district is on the east rift zone of Kilauea volcano, where geothermal power has been produced since the 1970s. Geothermal power was commercialized there in the early 1990s with the start of Puna Geothermal Venture.
The 38-megawatt plant got off to a rocky start with a 1991 well blowout that released hydrogen sulfide.
Kenoi said he plans to meet with group members in the next few weeks to discuss their eight recommendations.
Previous studies have looked at the public health effects of geothermal development in Puna, but their scopes were limited.
One published in 2001 concluded that Puna residents have higher health problems normally associated with hydrogen sulfide. But the state Department of Health criticized the study for partially relying on volunteers rather than only using random samples.
Another study conducted after the 1991 blowout showed respondents complained of excessive noise, sulfur odors, eye irritations and difficulty breathing.
The group that compiled the recommendations consisted of a dozen Puna residents and was coordinated by Peter Adler of Accord Consultants.
The report was finalized Sept. 9.