Plume study to help improve monitoring of gases at PGV

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Hawaii County Civil Defense is hiring a University of Hawaii at Manoa professor to model dispersion of hydrogen sulfide from gas releases at Puna Geothermal Venture.

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Hawaii County Civil Defense is hiring a University of Hawaii at Manoa professor to model dispersion of hydrogen sulfide from gas releases at Puna Geothermal Venture.

The $362,719 study will provide a “comprehensive dispersion and plume modeling program” aimed at improving risk assessments from venting at the power plant, according to a background report issued by the county Planning Department.

The Windward Planning Commission voted to award the funds Thursday from the county’s geothermal asset fund.

The model will take two years to complete, but periodic updates will be released to the public, said interim Civil Defense Administrator Ed Teixeira.

He said the modeling could lead to new air quality monitors being installed to better capture the spread of hydrogen sulfide and other gases during venting.

Steve Businger, UH-Manoa atmospheric science professor, will conduct the modeling. Civil Defense’s funding request says he is the project manager for the Mauna Kea Weather Office and is involved in tracking vog dispersion from Kilauea.

Neighbors of the power plant have long complained about what they say is inadequate monitoring. Some claim health impacts as a result of past releases.

The plant, which has a capacity of 38 megawatts, operates on a closed system, but numerous releases have occurred because of malfunctions or as a result of the facility being disconnected from the grid during storms. Abatement measures are used to reduce the levels of hazardous gas that is vented.

An oft-cited incident was the 2014 release during Tropical Storm Iselle, when an estimated 67 pounds of hydrogen sulfide was vented while residents were unable to evacuate because of downed trees. The power outage also left the three air monitors along the plant’s fence and one state Department of Health monitor in the area offline.

Based on readings from PGV employees’ hand-held monitors, DOH officials said health impacts were not expected.

Civil Defense provided hand-held monitors to some community members and portable monitors to be used during a release.

Even when the fixed monitors are working, some neighbors say their placement doesn’t capture the whole picture.

Bob Petricci, a PGV critic, said he is glad to see Civil Defense take their concerns seriously.

“PGV’s position is they are not causing any problems, but they don’t have the data to back that up either,” he said.

The plume study will help Civil Defense decide how to improve monitoring, Teixeira said.

“For the community, one of the end results, as we put in more air quality monitors out there, is to give us an idea of better locations,” he said.

Mike Kaleikini, senior director of Hawaiian affairs for Ormat Technologies, PGV’s parent company, said a plume modeling study was done years ago, but added the new effort could provide some more data.

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“We’re supportive of it and will do anything we can to help the whole process,” he said.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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