Hardening the grid to address climate-change risk
by Alan Yonan | Nov. 19, 2022
Watching news coverage of the recent hurricanes that devastated parts of Florida and the Caribbean brought back memories for me of two of the most powerful storms to hit Hawaii in modern times.
Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and Hurricane Iwa a decade earlier left paths of destruction and triggered extended power outages that are hard to forget all these years later. In 1982, Iwa struck just days before Thanksgiving, and I remember hearing about local families who lost power having to cook their turkeys on charcoal grills or smokers. It took weeks to fully restore power on Oahu and even longer on Kauai.
It’s only a matter of time until we experience another direct hit by a major storm. The Central Pacific experienced a record number of named storms during the 2015 hurricane season, but Hawaii escaped with only close calls.
Science tells us that as climate change worsens, we can expect to see more frequent and powerful storms. As part of an archipelago with more than 750 miles of coastline and the bulk of our population living in coastal areas, people in Hawaii are very aware of the effects of climate change and the need to prepare for it.
A big part of preparing for a future shaped by climate change involves building more resilient power systems that can better handle severe storms. Ensuring our electric grids can withstand and recover from severe disruptions and adapt to climate change is vital to the resilience of our entire community.
To this end, Hawaiian Electric has filed an application with the Public Utilities Commission to invest $190 million over five years in what we are calling the Climate Adaptation Transmission and Distribution and Resilience Program. We know that reliable electric grids are a critical driver of Hawaii’s economic activity and prosperity, as well as of essential services.
We are proposing a wide range of investments, including:
- Strengthening the most critical transmission lines to withstand extreme winds.
- Bolstering distribution lines serving critical community lifelines such as hospitals, military facilities, communications infrastructure, emergency response facilities and emergency shelters.
- Hardening targeted utility poles that could significantly delay restoration efforts if compromised.
- Enhancing vegetation management to prevent trees from falling into lines. This program would add to existing vegetation management efforts.
While preparing for more adverse effects of climate change has a price, the cost of inaction would be much higher. We are identifying the grid assets that are most critical and vulnerable and proposing to invest strategically in efforts to mitigate the greatest risks posed by climate change. We can’t afford to fall behind the curve in this important effort to protect our customers and our state.
Alan Yonan is a senior communications specialist at Hawaiian Electric Company.