Volcano Kilauea Floods Geothermal Plant, Threatening Hawaii’s Energy Source

Officials are scrambling to replace this resource.

One of the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency’s biggest fears about Volcano Kilauea has been realized. Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) — Hawaii’s first and only geothermal plant — was flooded by lava, destroying two of its building and shutting down the plant.

Fissures had been oozing lava dangerously close to PGV since last month, but Governor David Ige announced that the plant was “sufficiently safe” from the lava that had already claimed dozens of buildings in the nearby Leilani Estates. On Saturday, The Daily Beast reported that the geothermal power plant had finally fallen victim to the lava flows, cutting out an important energy resource for Hawaii.

Part of the Puna geothermal plant, before it was destroyed

Wikicommons/Department of Energy

Owned by Nevada’s Ormat Technologies, PGV contributed nearly 30 percent of Hawaii Island’s electricity, according to the US Department of Energy. Geothermal energy is sourced from the Earth’s natural heat, an ideal resource for an island that can leverage magma bubbles up from a hotspot in the Earth’s crust and transform it into renewable energy. With PGV down, authorities are scrambling to cover the island’s electricity needs.

To replace such a large reliance on geothermal power, Hawaii Electric Light has turned to other forms of energy generation, including the use of solar, wind, hydropower, and even fossil fuels. Hawaii was actively pushing to become reliant on 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, but the destruction of PGV is already a setback. As Hawaii Electric Light spokesperson Rhea Lee-Moku told The Daily Beast, “without PGV, Hawaii Island will go from 57 percent renewable to 37 percent renewable.”

In the meantime, the US Geological Survey (USGS) headquarters’ computer systems have been down since June 8. The agency announced that it was undergoing system-wide maintenance and would be limited in its ability to produce updates on Kilauea. USGS expects to have that capability restored by Sunday, at which time there may be more updates on more buildings in the volcanic fissures’ paths.

PGV created an important resource for Hawaii and the future of reusable energy, but a geothermal plant on an active volcanic rift zone comes with risks. Despite this major setback, there are still geothermal opportunities in Hawaii that scientists will no doubt seek again.