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Wildfire Safety

The safety of our customers, employees and the communities we serve is our highest priority. 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.

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.

Our three-phase strategy outlined below offers an effective framework in further reducing the risk of wildfires.

Phase One

The three-phase strategy starts with immediate actions, including:

  • Block reclosing of circuits in wildfire risk areas
    • Circuit breakers will open fast and shut off power quickly if a disruption is detected, reducing the likelihood of energized lines and sparks falling to the ground
    • Lines will remain deenergized and not be allowed to automatically reclose to restore power.
    • Power stays off until it is safe to energize
    • This may lead to longer outages, especially at night
    • New fault indicators, smart fuses will be used to reduce reliability impacts
  • Additional operational procedures:
    • In the event of red flag warnings issued by the National Weather Service, which indicate a combination of warm temperatures, low humidity and strong, sustained winds, we will deploy spotters to strategic locations in risk areas to watch for ignition.
    • Over time, more sensors, weather stations and infrared cameras are intended to replace the need for this resource intensive program

Phase Two

The second phase includes work that is underway or will soon be underway to harden the grid against extreme weather events and reduce potential hazards. That includes:

  • Expanding inspections of poles and lines, using helicopters, drones, infrared and ground inspection.
  • Addressing sag and tension in lines and adding spacers to reduce the potential for sparking.
  • Switching from single-strand copper, which can become brittle over time, to aluminum wire or covered conductor in some areas.
  • Reconfigure lines to minimize potential for touching and causing sparks in high winds
  • Replacing wood poles with steel poles in some areas.
  • Continuing vegetation management efforts adjacent to power lines.
  • Using fault current indicators, quickly identifying the location of faults.
  • Using smart reclosers and smart fuses
  • Installing cameras and weather sensors in critical areas.
Crews working on downed power lines

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.

Phase Three

The third phase will be longer term and 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:

Providing more precision in wildfire-focused weather forecasting and risk-modeling

Undergrounding power lines in strategic at-risk areas

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

Seeking support for 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 for wildfire defense programs

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 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, PSPS could become the tool of last resort, not the first option.

Current Wildfire Risk Areas

The following maps show the communities facing the highest risk of wildfires as defined by the state, which include most of the developed western coastal communities across the primary Hawaiian Islands, and other scattered spots across each island.

Source: Department of Land and Natural Resources, State of Hawaii