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Wildfire Safety

The safety of our customers, employees and the communities we serve is our highest priority. Since the August 2023 Maui windstorm and wildfires, we have developed a set of Interim Wildfire Safety Measures to reduce the risk of wildfires associated with utility infrastructure in service territory areas that we have identified as posing a higher wildfire risk. These interim measures represent actions we have either already started, or will start in 2024, while we simultaneously work to develop a more comprehensive strategy.

We first began developing our Wildfire Safety Strategy in 2019 and continue to adapt it to address the elevated risks in Hawaii. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency recently 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.

Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS)

We have also begun discussions with government, emergency response and community stakeholders to determine how a PSPS program can be designed and implemented in a way that is appropriate for each county and its ability to ensure public safety when power is shut off, potentially for multiple days.

A PSPS would shut off power in certain areas before extreme weather events as an additional means to reduce the risk of a wildfire. Successful use of a PSPS would require extensive coordination across all levels of government, first responders, essential service providers and the community because of its broad impact. Enhanced technology, weather forecasting, customer education, plans for backup for critical customers and community hubs and resources would also need to be in place for a PSPS to be safe and effective.

As the phases of our Wildfire Safety Strategy are successfully executed, a PSPS could become the tool of last resort, not the first option.

Learn more about a PSPS

Key takeaways

Wildfires are among the extreme weather events that are an increasing risk nationally and in Hawaii.

We are expanding our Wildfire Safety Strategy to immediately help reduce the risk of wildfires in areas experiencing extended droughts.

Key element of the strategy may make outages more frequent and last longer in wildfire risk areas.

$190M grid resilience plan is first phase of program to harden against wildfires, hurricanes, tsunami, flooding (50% paid by federal government, 50% by customers, subject to PUC approval)

We are working with emergency management agencies and communities to develop long-term actions, including use of Public Safety Power Shutoffs if they can be done safely.

Enhanced safety procedures

Crews working on downed power lines

In areas identified as being at risk for wildfires:

  • Circuit breakers will be set to "trip" and shut off power quickly if a disruption is detected. (Known as "fast trip")
  • Lines will remain de-energized until a visual inspection of the affected area is performed and deemed safe to energize.
  • Visually inspecting the affected area provides an added safety measure and may lead to longer outages, especially at night.
  • Spotters will be sent to strategic locations during certain weather events, including red flag warnings by the weather service (heat, low humidity, high wind).

Actions underway and planned

Work is underway or will soon be underway to harden the grid against extreme weather events and reduce potential hazards.

  • Reconfigure lines to minimize potential for touching and causing sparks in high winds
  • Reconductoring where appropriate
    • Single-strand copper to aluminum
    • Covered wire
    • Shield wire replacement
  • Replacing expulsion fuses
  • Addressing sag and tension in lines and adding spacers to reduce the potential for sparking.
  • Pole replacement or treatment/fire resistance
  • Ground inspection of poles and equipment
  • Aerial (drones), LiDAR inspection of poles and equipment
  • Continuing vegetation management efforts adjacent to power lines

We are also planning to use fault current indicators to quickly identify the location of faults, use smart reclosers, and install cameras and weather sensors in critical areas.

Additionally, we are advancing work on our $190 million grid resilience plan to harden against wildfires, hurricanes, tsunami and flooding, and to adapt to climate change impacts. Half of this multi-year program is to be paid by the federal government with the other half matched by customers, pending approval by the Public Utilities Commission.

Longer-term action plans

We will use a variety of tools to address continuing and emerging threats from extreme weather and climate change. Some of those tools are expected to include:

Additional weather technology with higher sensitivity to make forecasting more precise

Undergrounding power lines in strategic at-risk areas

Use of covered power lines, fast-acting fuses and fire-resistant poles and equipment

Expanded hazard tree removal, wider rights-of-way, and rights of access for clearing vegetation that threatens equipment

Continuing collaboration with fire departments and emergency management agencies to refine the overall strategy

Seeking more federal funding opportunities for wildfire defense programs