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PGV plant goes offline, vents hydrogen sulfide gas

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Photography and story by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

The Puna Geothermal Venture plant apparently was struck by lightning Monday, which tripped the Kapoho plant offline and caused some hydrogen sulfide gas to be vented.

At the PGV facility, manager Mike Kalekini said the plant tripped offline at about 12:45 p.m. and vented some gas for a short time during the rain and lightning storm that hit the area.

The plant had been producing an average of 27 megawatts of power for HELCO before Monday’s shutdown. Kalekini said operators were checking the power plant before restarting electricity generation.

Lani Puna Gardens resident Aurora Martiovich said she received a phone call from Kalekini at about 1:30 p.m. letting her know the plant took a lightning strike and vented some hydrogen sulfide gas.

In a telephone interview, Martiovich said, “We got hit really hard with the gas.”

She reported Kalekini informed her PGV was sending someone over immediately with an air monitor to test for gas at her home, which is adjacent to the PGV property.

Five minutes later, a PGV employee arrived with a monitor and measured 21 parts-per-billion (ppb) on his meter. That measurement is considered in the low range, according to EPA standards. The gas, which smells like rotten eggs, usually needs a level of 0.5 ppb to be detected by smell.

Martiovich said, “I picked up my old family dog and got out of there.”

She said at 4:30 p.m. Kalekini informed her via telephone that the leak had be secured but would remain offline until it could be safely restarted.

Martiovich praised Kalekini for keeping residents and neighbors informed about the potentially hazardous event but said she would rather not have the plant there and had tried to get the county to pay for her to be relocated away from the plant without luck.

Martiovich said it wasn’t the first time the plant had vented the gas which she said happens whenever the plants goes offline. She said the plant vented gas early last week when it went offline.

In the Lani Puna Gardens neighborhood, county Fire Department crews – including an engine, medic and HazMat unit – responded and tested for the hydrogen sulfide gas.

HazMat crew member Mike Uchida visited the scene and spoke to resident David Mangel, saying earlier tests by PGV in the neighborhood were reported to be 62ppb, which is a safe level below the 10 parts-per-million they consider to be hazardous.

Walking with Mangel through his property and on the street pockets of hydrogen sulfide gas with the tell-tale rotten egg odor could be detected by us before the HazMat crew arrived.

By late afternoon, the odor had dissipated in surrounding neighborhoods and no hydrogen sulfide odor was present by the plant buildings.

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