East Hawaii News

PGV Settles with EPA for 2013 Violations

January 12, 2016, 11:13 AM HST
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PGV file courtesy photo.

PGV file courtesy photo.

Puna Geothermal Venture has reached a settlement with the United States Environmental Protection Agency for 2013 chemical safety violations against the Clean Air Act.

The energy plant located in Puna was inspected by EPA officials in August of 2013 after hydrogen sulfide from the facility was released in March and April of that year.

According to officials, the April release was caused by a pump failure, which allowed geothermal condensate, which is made up of water and some contaminants like hydrogen sulfide, to be released into the atmosphere for about 15 minutes before isolating and stopping the leak.

The March release was the result of a tripped breaker in the local power grid. In that instance, PGV’s emergency shutdown and hydrogen sulfide abatement systems functioned as designed, according to the EPA.

When conducting its August 2013 inspection, EPA found that PGV failed to take steps towards preventing accidental releases of hydrogen sulfide, including not testing and inspecting equipment as directed by manufacturers’ recommendations, lacking good engineering practices, and operating experience.

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PGV reportedly had also failed to use and handle pentane, a flammable substance that is used as a working fluid in the facility’s electricity producing turbines, properly.

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EPA officials said PGV failed to:

  • Conduct periodic compliance audits of its accident prevention program and document that identified deficiencies have been corrected.
  • Implement adequate written operating procedures that provide clear instructions for safely conducting activities.
  • Ensure that the frequency of inspections and tests of equipment is consistent with manufacturers’ recommendations, good engineering practices, and prior operating experience.
  • Analyze and report on a worst-case release scenario and estimate the population that would be affected by an accidental release of pentane.

PGV was recently re-inspected and found to now comply with EPA rules to minimize accidental chemical releases. The company will also pay $76,500 as a civil penalty.

“The goal of EPA’s inspections is to protect the health and safety of the workers at the plant and the residents in the community,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Our continued oversight will help ensure that it operates in a safe manner by complying with federal requirements.”

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The penalty action is taken under the federal Clean Air Act’s Section 112(r) General Duty Clause and Risk Management Program requirements. The clause required facilities to minimize the probability and consequences of accidental chemical releases to better protect workers, communities, and the environment.

In addition to EPA’s oversight, including the Risk Management Plan updates that PGV must submit, the air permit issued to the facility by Hawai’i’s Department of Health requires PGV to submit regular air quality monitoring reports to the state.

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