Into the woods: Reducing outages in our forested communities

by Shayna Decker | June 26, 2019

The Olinda area boasts popular walking trails lined with towering trees.

Whenever visiting the Olinda and Piiholo area in Upcountry Maui, it’s hard not to marvel at the towering tree-lined corridors. The mammoth eucalyptus and pine trees are storybook-worthy as they loom overhead with wide-reaching canopies that shadow this forested, remote community.

It’s an absolutely beautiful place that provides a stunning reminder of why we’re lucky to live in Hawaii.

It’s also one of the forested communities where Maui Electric is working to improve reliability to customers while respecting the area’s admired woods that feature a bird sanctuary and popular hiking trails.

Last year, branches and trees falling onto power lines caused nearly 30 percent of all service interruptions in Maui County. Most of those outages affected about 2,600 customers in the Olinda-Piiholo community when large limbs or entire trees fell onto electrical equipment and knocked out power.

Maui Electric crews clearing trees before they can remove the damaged poles and lines from the area.

This upcountry area was especially hit hard during recent storms when strong gusts and heavy rains brought down multiple trees on power lines, resulting in extended restoration efforts. In some cases, enormous trees came down on the narrow winding roads with no shoulders and blocked access to restoration crews until the massive trunks could be removed.

Year-round, Maui Electric proactively manages vegetation encroaching on power lines and works with landowners responsible for the trees on their properties to prevent such outages throughout Maui County.

However, there are just some areas where no amount of trimming can cut down the number of tree and wind related outages.

Undergrounding electrical equipment is often not possible because the construction is too expensive for customers to bear. Other times, locations come with cultural sensitivities and environmental limitations that prohibit digging underground infrastructure.

Maui Electric crews inspect the spacers before installation in the Olinda area.

That’s where a trial installation of “cable spacers,” as they’re dubbed, made sense to help prevent tree-related outages to the Olinda-Piiholo community.

As part of this pilot project, Maui Electric crews replaced about one mile of existing power lines on 22 spans with the new cable spacers and upgraded 15 utility poles rated for higher winds.

The Olinda-Piiholo community is the first in Maui County to be served by the cable spacers specifically engineered to withstand stronger gusts, falling trees and limbs, and long installation spans where undergrounding electrical equipment is typically not possible.

Watch this video to learn about the Hendrix Aerial Cable System and how it can reduce outages.

Officially called the Hendrix Aerial Cable System, the cables consist of three coated conductors supported by a heavy-gauge wire that provides structural support. The cable is cinched into polyethylene spacers shaped liked diamonds placed every 30 feet along the spans to prevent the cables from touching each other and causing a short circuit, even under extreme stress.

There’s also no need for any cross arms or neutral wires on the utility poles, reducing visual impact.

A Maui Electric lineman is harnessed to a heavy gauge support wire to install the cable spacers.

Over the course of the eight-week installation, crews worked above steep and rocky terrain, where it was not always safe for bucket trucks to be used. Instead, the linemen donned climbing gear to mount the equipment on the poles.

With safety as a top priority, crew members assist on the ground as another lineman is perched 45-feet in the air to install the spacers.

A lineman was also strapped into a seat harness attached directly to the heavy-gauge support wire, where he was suspended nearly 45-feet from the ground to install the spacers.

Future plans include installation of additional cable spacers in an area of Lahaina and parts of East Molokai. The system is also being evaluated for use on Oahu and Hawaii Island.

With increasing and intensifying storm activity on our islands in recent years, Maui Electric will continue to look for more ways to improve reliability in other areas affected by tree and wind related outages.

This way, the awesome scenic landscapes on our islands continue to be maintained for all to enjoy, while people living in these beloved forested communities can depend on reliable power, too.

Shayna Decker is a communications manager at Maui Electric Company.

Our vision is to deliver cost-effective, clean, reliable, and innovative energy services to our customers.