HECO blames series of lightning strikes for island-wide blackout - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

HECO blames series of lightning strikes for island-wide blackout

Robbie Alm Robbie Alm

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Hawaiian Electric says its preliminary probe into last month's Oahu-wide blackout indicates at least five lightning strikes caused the system to short circuit.

The utility is further investigating whether the crippling outage was simply an act of nature, or if there was something it could have done to prevent it.

HECO says the system was able to handle the first two hits on its transmission lines, but the third lightning strike at 6:35 that night was the knockout blow.

Hawaiian Electric says an unusual chain of events led to the December 26th blackout that paralyzed Oahu.

"Like the fighter who's received the big blow, but is still standing up for a little while, then you come along and all you have to do is tap him," Robbie Alm, HECO executive vice president, said.

HECO officials say the third of at least five lightning strikes caused customer equipment, such as elevators and air conditioners, to lose power, which resulted in an instantaneous 150-megawatt drop in customer load.

They say that major disturbance caused the system to shut down seven power plants in the next 10 minutes in order to protect itself.

"Oahu, in the long run, depends on the safety of that equipment," Alm said. "So if you have to make a choice, you have to make the choice in favor of saving the basic integrity of the equipment."

People on Oahu were left to struggle in the dark.

"We feel very badly and regret any time we're not able to serve our customers because of a problem like this," Alm said. "You know, so we understand and appreciate that people suffered harm from this."

HECO says it restored all circuits by 3 pm the next day, using a methodical process that gives priority to critical customers like the military, hospitals, wastewater facilities, and the airport.

"If it turns out that we did not do our job well enough, then that's a very different scenario and people should be able to look to us for recovery," Alm said.

To date, nearly 200 claims have been filed by customers who say they suffered losses during the blackout.

The utility says the investigation continues with further equipment inspections and consultations with experts.

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