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HECO to expand power shutdown program

Hawaiian Electric announced Wednesday that it is expanding its Public Safety Power Shutoff program in anticipation of a dry summer that could pose a risk of wildfire.

The utility said that starting July 1, it may preemptively shut off power in areas that appear at high risk of wildfire during periods of forecasted high winds and dry conditions.

“Wildfires have been recognized as a top hazard facing Hawaii,” said HECO Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Jim Alberts. “Hawaiian Electric has responded with a multi-pronged approach to mitigating wildfire risk. One component is proactively shutting off power, which is a last line of defense to protect the community. We understand shutting off power can create hardships for affected customers, so this is not something we take lightly.

The program will start in the following areas:

• Oahu: Waianae, Makaha, Nanakuli, Maili, and Kaena Point (approximately 2,700 customers)

• Hawaii Island: North Hawaii between Kohala (below 18 mile marker) and Waikoloa, in West Hawaii between Kalaoa and Holualoa, and between Mauna Kea Access Road and Waikii Ranch (approximately 19,300 customers)

• Maui County: West Maui, Upcountry, parts of Central and South Maui, and parts of central Molokai (approximately 26,100 customers)

According to HECO, the areas have a combination of risk factors for wildfires, including exposure to strong winds, dry conditions, vegetation prone to wildfires and historically higher rates of wildfires.

Over time, Hawaiian Electric will expand this program to all high-risk areas on the islands it serves.

A PSPS will only be activated in an area if weather data, including statements from the National Weather Service, indicate conditions for heightened wildfire risk. These conditions may include strong winds, low humidity and dry vegetation. Combined, such factors can result in downed trees or flying debris contacting power lines and damaging electrical infrastructure, which can create the risk of wildfires, according to HECO.

HECO said it will notify the public and coordinate with government officials, first responders and emergency response agencies before activating a PSPS and public notifications will be disseminated via news releases, social media, online outage maps and updates to its website. If weather conditions change suddenly, shutoff may occur with little or no notice.

Power will remain shut off as long as hazardous weather conditions continue. When the weather improves, power lines will be inspected and any damage will be repaired before service is restored. This may involve ground crews and aerial inspections using helicopters and drones. HECO warned this process may result in extended outages lasting several hours, possibly even days depending on the location and extent of damage.

HECO is advising customers on life support or with special medical needs to prepare for the possibility of extended power outages and to provide their contact information to receive notifications in the event of a PSPS. Online Medical Needs Communications forms may be submitted to hawaiianelectric.com/PSPS.

The PSPS program is part on HECO’s overall Wildfire Safety Strategy. For more information, visit hawaiianelectric.com/wildfiresafety.

Michael Tsai covers local and state politics for Spectrum News Hawaii. He can be reached at michael.tsai@charter.com.

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