Tree-clearing initiative reduces Darby's impact on power lines

Tree-clearing initiative reduces Darby's impact on power lines

By Chantelle Aguilar
HNN Digital Intern

HILO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - None of Hawaiian Electric Light's transmission lines, which serve as the backbone of the island's electric grid, were damaged by falling albizia trees during Tropical Storm Darby, officials said.

That's in sharp contrast to 2014, when Tropical Storm Iselle knocked out power to parts of Hawaii Island for weeks.

In the wake of Iselle, HELCO has spent an estimated $14 million to clear nearly 94,000 trees, 31,000 of which were albizia.

"What was abundantly evident were the number of outages that were far below what we had expected throughout our districts given the high density of foliage and trees," said Ed Texeira, Hawaii County director of emergency management. "Specifically those remaining albizia tree stands in lower Puna."

Falling trees, branches, and tree bark are the main cause of power outages on Hawaii Island.

Since Iselle, HELCO crews have been trimming and removing trees and other vegetation year-round.

Tropical Storm Darby was not as intense as Iselle, but HELCO officials said it served as a good test of the work that had been done to clear vegetation.

"These were different storms, but it appears the tree-clearing effort we began after Iselle made a difference for our customers," said Jay Ignacio, HELCO president. "Darby did cause some localized outages in some communities, but it was not the same type of damage to our main transmission lines that caused widespread outages that we saw during Iselle."

Albizia, an invasive species in Hawaii, is one of the fastest growing trees in the world and is capable of reaching 200 feet. Its broad, shallow root systems make it easy to fall during strong winds.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.