Lava Eruption on Hawaii Prompts Geothermal Power Plant Closure

geothermal power plant Hawaii lava
(Photo: Lava overtakes Leilani Estates on May 4. Credit: Mick Kalber / Honolulu Star-Advertiser on YouTube)

Active lava flow from the Kilauea volcano erupting on Hawaii prompted an emergency shutdown of the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) on Thursday. Hawaii Electric Light reports that despite the power plant’s closure, the company doesn’t expect a generation shortfall.

The power plant is located less than a mile from at least one fissure where lava has erupted, according to Hawaii News Now. PGV is a geothermal energy conversion plant that sells electricity to Hawaii Electric Light for distribution to their 85,925 customers on the island. The 38-MW-capacity plant is one of two independent power producers along with Hamakua Energy Partners’ 60-MW oil plant.

“As lava moves through the Leilani Estates Subdivision, concerned residents are growing anxious over the status of the Puna Geothermal Venture,” Hawaii News Now reported. “Councilwoman for the district, Eileen O’Hara, says the main concern is the nearly 60,000 gallons of pentane stored on site. Pentane is a highly flammable liquid.”

PGV officials told O’Hara that they are complying with an evacuation plan that has approval from the EPA and the state health department. Molten rock, toxic gas, and steam have been bursting through openings in the ground created by the volcano, the Associated Press reported.

“If every drop of pentane that is being stored on site…were to ignite simultaneously, would it be able to cause a fire in the nearest residence? The evaluation says no,” O’Hara said, according to Hawaii News Now. “It might cause glass to shatter from the explosion, but it could not cause a fire at the nearest residence.”

Head of the Hawaii County Civil Defense Talmadge Magno told reporters yesterday that the flammables at the plant had been moved to higher ground, and that the volcanic activity appeared to be moving in the opposite direction of the plant.

On Friday at 12:33 pm local time, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake associated with the volcano shook a substation transformer, resulting in a power outage that affected 14,400 Hawaii Electric Light customers. Power was restored to all customers by 2:20 pm, the company says.

“Continued lava activity in the Leilani Estates subdivision has caused electric lines and other utility equipment to fall,” a Hawaii Electric Light spokesperson said on Sunday, cautioning everyone in the area to treat lines, transformers, and other utility equipment as energized even if the equipment is on the ground. At least 26 homes have been destroyed by the volcano over the past several days.

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