Hawaiian Electric CEO Defends Decision Not to De-energize Power Lines
The recent California wildfires have sparked a debate about power companies’ responsibility to shut down or de-energize power lines during high-risk fire conditions. However, the CEO of Hawaiian Electric, Connie Lau, is defending the decision not to de-energize power lines during a windstorm in December that sparked a fire and caused property damage in Maui.
The Windstorm and the Fire
On December 24, 2019, a windstorm swept through Maui, knocking down trees and power lines. One power line fell onto a tree, sparking a fire that spread to multiple homes in the area. Despite the high-risk fire conditions, Hawaiian Electric did not shut down the power lines.
As a result, some residents are blaming Hawaiian Electric for the fire and the damage it caused. However, Lau is defending the decision, citing several reasons why de-energizing the power lines would not have been the best course of action.
Maui’s Power Grid
One of the main reasons why Hawaiian Electric did not shut down the power lines is because of Maui’s power grid. According to Lau, Maui’s power grid is not designed for a complete shut down. If Hawaiian Electric were to shut down the power lines, it would take a significant amount of time to reboot the system, which could lead to prolonged power outages for residents.
Furthermore, de-energizing the power lines would not guarantee that a fire would not start. Sparks can still fly from the power lines, and the wind could carry those sparks to nearby combustibles.
Power Outages and Safety
Another reason why Hawaiian Electric did not shut down the power lines is because of the potential safety concerns for residents. According to Lau, power outages during high-risk fire conditions can be dangerous for residents, especially those who rely on electricity for life support systems.
In addition, shutting down the power lines would have resulted in power outages for hundreds or even thousands of residents, which could have ignited new fires in the dark.
The Importance of Maintenance
Lau is also emphasizing the importance of maintenance to prevent power line failures in the first place. According to Lau, Hawaiian Electric invests millions of dollars each year in maintenance programs, including tree trimming and equipment inspections.
While the windstorm was unexpected, Hawaiian Electric is taking steps to improve the resiliency of its power grid. This includes replacing distribution lines with newer, more robust lines, and upgrading equipment for better reliability.
Finally, Lau is highlighting the importance of public education in preventing fires caused by power lines. She encourages residents to report power line issues, such as downed lines or damaged equipment, immediately.
In addition, residents should always be aware of their surroundings and avoid parking or standing near power lines. Trees should also be trimmed regularly to prevent them from falling onto power lines.
While the decision not to de-energize power lines during high-risk fire conditions is controversial, Connie Lau is standing by Hawaiian Electric’s decision. She cites Maui’s power grid, potential safety concerns, the importance of maintenance, and public education as crucial factors in preventing fires caused by power lines.
Ultimately, it is up to power companies to balance the risk of power line failures with the potential safety concerns and power outages for residents. By investing in maintenance programs and public education, and by regularly upgrading equipment, Hawaiian Electric is taking proactive steps to prevent future fires caused by its power lines.