HILO, Hawai‘i — Hawaiian Electric Co. said Thursday the state Public Utilities Commission approved its $190 million Climate Adaptation Transmission and Distribution Resilience Program application.
According to a statement by the power utility, the program “will help defend against the increasing threat of wildfires and harden its five island electric grids against severe weather-related events fueled by climate change.”
HECO said a $95 million grant under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be matched with $95 million to come from ratepayers.
The estimated cost increase on a typical monthly bill for a residential customer using 500 kilowatt hours will be 47 cents on Hawai‘i Island, 39 cents in Maui County and 17 cents on O‘ahu, HECO said.
“As climate change progresses, the frequency and severity of severe weather events is likely to increase,” the PUC stated in its decision. “Given the critical services that rely on electric service to function and our state’s geographic isolation, it is imperative that our electric grid be able to withstand these growing challenges.”
Part of the five-year plan by HECO is to strengthen or replace 2,100 poles on critical circuits statewide.
Investing in a more resilient power system will address the increasing threat of wildfires, reduce the severity of damage when major events happen, and enable service to be restored more quickly, according to HECO.
The utility also plans to move some critical circuits underground and to remove trees deemed hazardous in critical areas.
Michael Konowicz, a private online meteorologist and board member of the Waikoloa Village Association, called the move “a step in the right direction.”
“There hasn’t been an increase in severe weather events, so I question that stat,” he said. “But I do like the intent to make sure that we are resilient as possible, regardless of whatever Mother Nature throws our way.
“The utilities really do need to step up and harden the grid to protect us from the fires they create. On the Aug. 8 fires on the Big Island, in the community meetings I’ve been to, (the Hawai‘i Fire Department) said they believed HECO lines were responsible for several of those fires on my side of the island.”
Wildfires on Maui that day devastated Lahaina and claimed the lives of 100 people.
HFD Chief Kazuo Todd said in September there were seven fires in West Hawai‘i that same day, with 80 mph-plus winds hampering firefighting efforts. Todd said one large warehouse in the Mauna Kea Beach area was destroyed and “about seven” other structures — none of them residential — were damaged.
No deaths or injuries were reported on the Big Island.
The awarding of the $95 million federal grant was first announced by President Joe Biden during a visit to Maui soon after the deadly wildfires.
“We appreciate the PUC’s approval of our plan, and we thank the U.S. Department of Energy and the Biden administration for their funding support as we work with partners across the state to help Maui recover, to reduce the risk of wildfires and to make our system stronger,” said Colton Ching, HECO senior vice president of planning and technology.
Reporter John Burnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island