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Hawaiian Electric warns of energy deficit

HILO, Hawai‘i — Hawaiian Electric is asking all Hawai‘i Island customers to reduce or shift their electricity use over the next month.

Company spokeswoman Kristin Okinaka said the energy provider’s largest independent power producer, Hamakua Energy, has gone offline, leaving the power grid with a significant deficit of power.

Hamakua Energy generates 60 megawatts of power, about one-third of the Big Island’s typical peak demand of roughly 180 megawatts.

A Hamakua Energy spokesperson attributed the plant’s failure to “mechanical issues with our generators” and said the plant is working to identify the cause and will provide updates about service restoration as soon as possible.

In the interim, Hawaiian Electric has urged customers to conserve energy, because several other large generators are also offline for various reasons.

Most pertinently, Okinaka said the provider’s Keahole generator — which, according to Hawaiian Electric’s website, contributes 77 megawatts to the grid — currently is on the mainland being overhauled. While she said Hawaiian Electric is working to expedite that process so it can return to the Big Island as soon as possible, the grid will be operating with very tight margins through at least mid-April.

Customers are therefore asked to reduce energy consumption as much as possible over the next several weeks, particularly during the peak hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays. Hawaiian Electric recommends actions, such as turning off air conditioners, unnecessary lighting and water heaters, and using large appliances during the daytime, when solar resources are more abundant.

“The challenging part for us is timing,” Okinaka said. “Because of how electricity works, it has to be generated based off demand. If demand exceeds what we can generate, we might need to initiate an outage.”

Rolling outages up to an hour long throughout the island might be necessary depending on the grid’s capacity. While Hawaiian Electric will send out alerts over social media — on X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook — Hawai‘i County Civil Defense has also partnered with the company to distribute alerts via its own emergency notification systems, including radio alerts and its Everbridge notification platform.

“Whenever the power goes out, people contact 911, Civil Defense, the county — they call everyone to find out what’s going on,” said Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno. “We offered to put out (Hawaiian Electric’s) messages, like what we do during inclement weather.”

Although Okinaka said Hawaiian Electric will try to send out alerts warning about impending outages before they take place, she said they could happen without warning, depending on the situation. If another generator goes offline unexpectedly, for example, an outage might be necessary immediately.

That said, Okinaka said that alerts calling for power conservation should be sent around 3 p.m., because Hawaiian Electric should know by then whether the grid is in good shape — although, again, she said unexpected generator failures can change that.

“People have got to be prepared,” Magno said. “If you have medical needs, you ought to know what they are ahead of time.”

Magno said emergency response services should not be disrupted in the event of an outage, and that cellphone coverage should remain unaffected.

The situation comes at an unfortunate time, with the 2024 Merrie Monarch Festival to take place next week.

Okinaka said Hawaiian Electric is “doing everything” to make sure the festival maintains power — and implied that Hawaiian Electric might prioritize outages elsewhere to keep the lights on at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.

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Reporter Michael Brestovansky can be reached at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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