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Smoke billows after an explosion at the Delta Energy Center in Pittsburg, CA, Sunday. A steam turbine generator ended up destroyed.

Smoke billows after an explosion at the Delta Energy Center in Pittsburg, CA, Sunday. A steam turbine generator ended up destroyed.

An explosion and fire at the Delta Energy Center power plant in Pittsburg, CA, destroyed the steam turbine generator, forcing an immediate shut down Sunday.

The fire involved the hydrogen cooling system of the steam turbine at the Delta Energy Center power plant.

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Contra Costa Fire District firefighters arrived on scene at 3:43 p.m. to find a lubrication oil fire that was slowly starting to dwindle after power plant staff purged the hydrogen and carbon dioxide from the system, which starved the fire of flammable gas. The fire took two hours to fight and there were no injuries in the incident.

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“One end of the generator was destroyed in the fire, mostly because of the initial explosion of the hydrogen gas,” said fire marshal Robert Marshall. “There was concern about the gear lubrication oil going into a storm drain near there, but we were able to boom that and no oil made it down to the river.”

The Delta Energy Center is an 880-megawatt, natural gas-fired, “combined-cycle” plant, which uses gas and steam to generate electricity. The plant uses three gas turbines to generate electricity, each equipped with a heat recovery system that delivers steam to an additional steam turbine, which generates 70 percent more electricity.

The damage ended up isolated to the steam turbine’s generator and that the rest of the plant, as well as the neighboring communities, did not suffer from the blast, said officials at Calpine Corp. which owns the facility.

Calpine is still assessing the accident and was not able to comment on the cause of the explosion nor the extent of the damage

“The fire was on the generator section, not on the steam turbine itself,” said Brett Kerr, director of external affairs for Calpine. “In the steam turbine, hydrogen is used as a cooling unit in the generator. Friction at that speed produces a lot of heat.”

Kerr said safety systems are in place and the hydrogen, which is highly flammable, is not next to the generator.

The Delta Energy Center is second only to the 1.3 gigawatt Pittsburg Generation Station in terms of electricity generation capacity in the Bay Area. Calpine is also the owner and operator of the Los Medanos Energy Center, a 555-megawatt combined cycle plant in Pittsburg.

The Delta Energy Center is the 19th largest, in terms of generating capacity, in the state.

When running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Delta Energy Center can meet the electricity demands of more than 800,000 households. It is unknown when it will be back online.

“The entire facility is offline until we can make sure it’s safe to restart it,” Kerr said.

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