Future Operations at Puna Geothermal Are Uncertain Following Lava Damage

In a May 30 update, Ormat Technologies said that damage to the Puna Geothermal complex caused by lava from the Kilauea volcanic eruption in Hawaii has made it difficult for the company to determine when the plant will resume operations.

Earthquakes started on the island April 30, and volcanic activity soon followed. Ormat in a statement in mid-May said it had closed the 38-MW facility when a volcanic fissure opened nearby.

In statements regarding the condition of the plant, Ormat said that the substation of the complex and an adjacent warehouse that stored a drilling rig were burned, and the approaching lava covered the wellheads of two geothermal wells. The company will consider the long lead times of constructing a new substation and the extent of the damage to transmission lines before it can determine when the facility can be placed back online.

According to the company, lava may reach other wells and areas of the Puna facility, which is located in the Kilauea East Rift Zone.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on May 31 said that “vigorous eruption of lava continues from the lower East Rift Zone fissure system.”

USGS workers are monitoring the volcanic activity on a 24-hour basis. 

In a May 31 USGS video, Matthew Patrick, a geologist with the USGS reporting from the Fissure 6 fountain near Puna Geothermal, said activity has been erratic in the area, but most of the Fissure 6 lava is flowing to the ocean.

“One of the things we…are looking for is overflows or changes in that flow direction,” he said. “We are monitoring the flow margin making sure it doesn’t migrate any closer to [the] plant.”

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Jennifer Delony, analyst for TransmissionHub, started her career as a B2B news editor in the local and long-distance telecommunications industries in the '90s. Jennifer began covering renewable energy issues at the local level in 2005 and covered U.S. and Canadian utility-scale wind energy as editor of North American Windpower magazine from 2006-2009. She also provides analysis for the oil and natural gas sectors as editor of Oilman Magazine.

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