Officials Say No Risk of Blackout From Lava Breach at Hawaii Geothermal Plant

Officials with Hawaii Electric Light (HEL) on May 23 said the Puna Geothermal Venture power plant is secure, and that even if lava from the Kilauea eruption damages or destroys the facility, there is no danger of a blackout on the island because older, diesel-fueled plants have been brought online to provide electricity.

HEL officials said that if lava does breach the power plant, the danger of a release of toxic gas is “very low.” The 11 wells at the geothermal plant, which supplies about a quarter of the island of Hawaii’s power, have been plugged, although officials said they are unsure of what would happen if lava makes contact with the wells. The utility provides updates on the situation here.

Tom Travis, an administrator with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, at a May 22 news conference said “the well field is as safe as we can get the well field. The probability of anything happening if the lava enters the well field is very, very low.” Travis said citizens “should feel pretty comfortable that there should be no untoward events from Puna Geothermal Venture. Assuming that the lava doesn’t change its pattern or its flow. Each time it changes we have to re-evaluate and look at other issues.”

Hawaii Governor David Ige has said wells at the facility “are stable.” County of Hawaii Civil Defense in a statement said “Fissures near Puna Geothermal Venture are active and producing lava slowly flowing onto the property. This activity has destroyed the former Hawaii Geothermal Project site,” it said, referring to a warehouse on the property.

Puna Geothermal is owned by Nevada-based Ormat Technologies. The plant was shut down soon  after Kilauea erupted and spewed lava on May 3. The geothermal plant uses heat and steam from the earth’s core to spin turbines that generate power. Pentane, a flammable gas, is used as part of the power generation process. Officials earlier this month removed 50,000 gallons of pentane from the plant to reduce the possibility of explosions.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).