Creeping Lava Now Threatens Major Hawaiian Power Plant

(AP) – Molten lava from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has entered the grounds of Puna Geothermal Venture, a geothermal power plant that provides about 25 percent of the Big Island’s power.

The 38 Megawatt Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) power plant, which is located in the east rift zone of the Kilauea volcano, was shut down soon after the eruptions began on May 3. Yesterday, lava from Fissure 22 came to within 820 feet (250 meters) of the plant’s nearest well pad before stalling, as Reuters reports. Overnight, workers managed to cap the 11th and final well at the facility in anticipation of the lava eventually reaching the facility, and to prevent the uncontrollable release of toxic gases.

“County, state, and federal partners have been collaborating closely to monitor the situation and work with PGV to ensure the safety of the surrounding communities,” said Hawaii County Civil Defense (HCCD) in a statement, adding that “Efforts are ongoing to make sure the site is secure and the community is kept safe.”

Cold water was pumped into all 11 wells prior to capping them with iron plugs. Workers have also managed to remove 60,000 gallons (227,124 liters) of pentane, a highly flammable and noxious liquid that’s used at the plant.

The wells at the PGV plant are between 6,000 feet to 8,000 feet deep (1,830 to 2,440 meters). Hot steam and water from these wells drive turbines to produce electricity. Pentane, which is boiled, is used to power secondary turbines.

Mercifully, the lava flow stopped at a ridge near the PGV plant, but as the events of the past two weeks have shown, Mount Kilauea is in an extremely volatile state. The HCCD said Fissure 22 is producing most of the lava feeding the flows, so the situation near the power plant remains precarious.