Hawai'i Electric Light preparing for potential impacts from lava flow

Hawai'i Electric Light preparing for potential impacts from lava flow
Ongoing eruptions in the lower Puna area have damaged 400 electric poles, according to HELCO officials. (Image: Hawaii News Now/File)

HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawai'i Electric Light says they are closely monitoring the progress of the Kilauea lava flow, even though there is no immediate threat to its facilities or power lines right now.

The company continues to work with Hawai'i County Civil Defense and other agencies to monitor and evaluate the flow and is prepared to respond. Because of the unpredictable nature of the flow, HELCO says they have developed several plans to keep the power on and will put into action the plan that best fits the situation. The company says the safety of employees and the community is top priority.

"Our plans are based on key objectives that include keeping employees and the community safe and keeping the power on for our customers as long as is safely possible," said spokesperson Rhea Lee. "In developing our plans, we consulted with volcanologists, Hawai'i County Civil Defense and other County agencies, leaders in the Hawaiian community, and other partners."

Plans include, but are not limited to:

  • Protecting power poles from the heat generated by the lava by partially encasing select wooden poles with heat resistant and dispersive material;
  • Increasing the distance between select power poles to span the lava flow;
  • Extending our distribution lines on Government Beach Road and other areas as an alternate means to provide power to Puna subdivisions should the normal power distribution lines become inoperable.
  • Relocating generators to the Puna District to provide an alternate source of generation should the flow isolate the area from the island-wide power grid.

Last week, crews started work on Government Beach Road. In addition, pole protection prototypes were built in the Puna area.

"There is a lot of focus on protecting poles as a means to retain the current transmission and distribution system," Lee said. "The designs developed are experimental, but we are hopeful that they will be successful and can be used on select wooden poles as the lava progresses."

In addition, HELCO is exploring the possibility of operating a micro-grid in the event the lava flow isolates lower Puna from the power system.

"A micro-grid is disconnected from the utility grid and generates power for a specific area," Lee said. "This option may allow us to continue to provide power to the lower Puna community until we are able to rebuild transmissions lines that are damaged by lava and interconnect these lines to the grid."

However, outages may occur despite efforts to keep the power on for as long as possible. As the flow gets closer to the HELCO's facilities, they will provide more specific information as to how customers could be impacted.

For customers who evacuate, the company recommends:

  • Shut off electricity at the main breaker or switch;
  • Unplug or turn off electric equipment and appliances;
  • Call Customer Service at 969-6999 to request a service disconnect or transfer.

Hawai'i Electric Light's free "Handbook for Emergency Preparedness" provides detailed information on preparing for emergency situations. The handbook is available in English, Cantonese, Ilocano, Korean, and Vietnamese and can be found at the company's business offices, on its website, or by calling 969-0137.

As there are new developments, updates will be provided to the media and public and also posted on 2014 Hawai'i Electric Light's website, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.

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