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We are building greater resilience into our power systems so they can better withstand severe events, including weather-related disasters fueled by climate change, and enable faster recovery. To do this, we are seeking approval from regulators to invest about $190 million over five years in our proposed Climate Adaptation Transmission and Distribution (T&D) Resilience Program.
In a related development, on Aug. 30, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy approved $95 million in federal funds in the wake of the Maui windstorms and wildfires to harden the energy grids on the five islands served by Hawaiian Electric and enable them to better withstand severe weather-related events fueled by climate change.
Among the investments proposed by Hawaiian Electric:
- Strengthen the most critical transmission lines to withstand extreme winds
- Bolster distribution lines serving critical community lifeline facilities such as hospitals, military facilities, communications infrastructure, water and wastewater facilities, emergency response facilities, and emergency shelters. This will help to safeguard energy delivery to these fundamental services that enable all other aspects of society to function
- Harden targeted utility poles that could otherwise significantly impede or delay restoration efforts if compromised
- Enhance vegetation management to prevent trees from falling into lines in a storm. This program would augment existing vegetation management efforts
- Strengthen lines and deploy devices to help prevent and respond to wildfires
- Install equipment in potentially vulnerable substations to reduce flood impacts
The investments are targeted to address the highest-value projects that will focus on the biggest vulnerabilities in the most cost-effective way.
In October 2023, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HiEMA) named wildfires as the top hazard in the state as part of its statewide hazard mitigation plan. Ongoing drought conditions, vegetation and potential impacts to the community, cultural resources and economy were all factors that contributed to the ranking. In that report, HiEMA noted statistically there is a 100% chance of wildfires occurring in Hawaii in any given year with an average of 12 events per year.
We first began developing our Wildfire Mitigation Plan in 2019 and continue to adapt it to address the elevated risks in Hawaii. We are focusing our efforts in areas identified by the state of Hawaii as being at risk for wildfires.
Upgrades / Maintenance
The day to day maintenance of the electrical infrastructure is a key part of keeping the grid resilient. We make regular inspections of our poles, lines, and other equipment and work to replace and upgrade aging and faulty equipment before failures happen.
We also regularly work on managing and trimming back the vegetation around our equipment, as many of the power outages during storms and other high wind occasions are due to tree branches or other vegetation falling into the power lines. In 2021 alone, Hawaiian Electric spent $18.5 million across the islands on vegetation management, trimming and cutting down trees and other vegetation.
Here are some examples of the continued maintenance we're doing to keep our grid resilient:
Improving system reliability in Windward Oahu with the replacement of a transmission tower with three new steel poles. Crews also transferred high-voltage transmission lines that cut across H-3 freeway to the new steel poles.
Clearing vegetation and upgrading poles, power lines and equipment in upper Palolo Valley. The company worked with residents to de-energize power lines so several large albizia trees could be removed along Lai Road.
Replacing more than 400 poles on Maui, Lanai and Molokai to maintain strength and safety standards based on inspections and testing.
Installing more than 60 grid-protection devices on Maui to help prevent outages and limit service interruptions to a smaller number of customers.
Installing weather stations at targeted West Maui facilities to actively assess drier and hotter weather patterns contributing to longer wildfire seasons produced by climate change.
Developing a microgrid, supported by a battery energy storage system, to improve reliability and resilience in North Kohala. It would allow the company to serve the area while the existing radial sub-transmission line is rebuilt and when the line is affected by unplanned or planned events like storms or overnight maintenance and upgrade work.
As an island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no close neighboring states to rely on, being prepared is crucial. At Hawaiian Electric, our storm recovery planning goes on year-round, not just during hurricane season. Our company works closely with government agencies in developing disaster plans and rehearsing responses. More than 200 of our employees received FEMA training certification in 2017 and participated in a two-day emergency drill that simulated a direct hit from a hurricane.
We also have strong relationships with other local utilities, companies and contractors, which is critical to speeding recovery. Furthermore, we have strong mutual assistance pacts with mainland utilities; crews and equipment can be brought to Hawaii within days if necessary.
Besides strengthening our existing infrastructure and being better prepared for disasters, we must also consider the future as the grid evolves and new technology emerges. As Hawaii moves towards 100% clean energy, we must ensure that the decisions we make will make the grid even more resilient than it is today. We are constantly evaluating and testing new technologies that can help us better monitor and control the grid, allowing us to add more distributed resources like rooftop solar to the grid, as well as restore outages quicker when they occur. We work hard to improve the reliability and resilience of our grid, from generation to distribution.
Here are some examples of how we can make our grid even more resilient in the future:
- Install remote fault indicators that can provide precise locations of fault allow us to restore outages quicker
- Advanced Inverters that can control the output of electricity of rooftop solar to the grid to ensure grid stability
- Build more modern and efficient power plants inland, away from the coastline
- Collaborate with key partners, such as the military, to supply energy to customers during an emergency; Schofield Generation Station, for instance, will play an essential role
- Develop microgrids to build energy resilience into local communities, while also providing valuable services like energy storage and demand response to the public electricity grid. Learn more about the Microgrid Services Tariff.