Updated 

EPA report critical of PGV; 14 violations cited


The Environmental Protection Agency cited Puna Geothermal Venture with 14 violations in a report issued last month.

Ten of the violations listed in the April 29 assessment were historical, and had been corrected as of 2010, but the document also notes ongoing failures regarding preventative maintenance and monitoring.

While EPA, in a letter to PGV regarding the violations, says the facility is in general “both well- and safely operated,” the report in one of its findings also says the plant “has failed to maintain a safe facility taking such steps as are necessary to prevent releases.”

Among the highlighted issues, the agency says the 38-megawatt power plant has not followed schedules for maintenance and tests of its geothermal wells and may not detect small leaks around its well casings.

In regard to maintenance, the report says, “The records reviewed by EPA indicate that, for the five production wells, about 38 (30 percent) of 125 scheduled tasks were not completed as scheduled, and at the time of EPA’s inspection, almost no tasks scheduled for 2013 had been completed.”

The inspection occurred in August.

The EPA also says that ultrasonic testing of “pressure vessel wall thickness” is supposed to occur annually, but has not been done since 2006.

The report says PGV’s casing monitoring program presumes that a failure causing loss of geothermal fluid “to the formation” may be detected as a pressure and temperature drop at the wellhead. The agency said it is “extremely unlikely” that this approach would detect such a leak unless it was “very large.”

“Thus, the (monitoring program) provides almost no assurance that a casing leak will be detected in the early stage of a failure,” the report says.

It also notes EPA found no records of hand-held hydrogen sulfide analyzers being recalibrated, when it is supposed to be done monthly.

Additionally, the report says the devices are supposed to be recertified annually. Only one had been recertified prior to March 2013.

EPA conducted the inspection following a hydrogen sulfide release at the plant in March 2013. The release was caused by a plant shutdown prompted by a trip in power transmission lines.

Mike Kaleikini, PGV’s senior director of Hawaiian affairs, said the company disagrees with the findings but could not comment on what it thinks is incorrect before it provides its response to EPA.

“We are working on a response to the report,” he said. “Our ongoing commitment is to be above and beyond the regulatory requirements.”

Asked if the report supports that statement, Kaleikini said, “They (EPA) can disagree. They are the regulatory agency but that’s our position.”

PGV has until the end of June to provide a response after EPA granted a 30-day extension, according to an agency spokesman.

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