We have a tree problem

by Ian Brizdle | Oct. 24, 2019

In the early morning hours of Aug. 26, 2019, a large Albizia tree fell across Lai Road in the back of Palolo Valley on Oahu. Residents that live back there in the Palolo jungle, including my parents, woke up to a familiar situation for them — no electricity service, and the inability to drive through the one access road to their property. It was a repeat of what had just occurred earlier this year in February, in almost the same location.

The first thing my parents did was report the outage for their specific address using the Hawaiian Electric Mobile app on their cell phones. The outage map tool also showed them that we were aware of the outage in their area and our estimated time of restoration. With nothing else to do until then, naturally they walked down the road to check out the damage, nose around and take pictures.

Cleaning up the carnage

Most times, like in the case of the Lai Road incidents, we need to deenergize the lines so that our contract trimmers can work safely on the tree that is resting on the conductors. This process can be time consuming since there is often a lot of tension placed upon lines and equipment, and removing weight safely from those lines poses a risk to personnel and equipment. Once the trees or branches are safely moved out of the way, then our crews can assess the damage and begin repairs to poles and lines as necessary.

What are we doing to prevent this from happening?

We trim Oahu on a cyclical basis. In essence, we start at point A and go around the island area by area until we get around to point A again. Ideally this takes us anywhere between 20–24 months. Crews will generally prune to get 10–15 feet of clearance from our high voltage lines. Less clearance is achieved for our lower voltage secondary lines, and service lines to each particular home is usually the responsibility of the homeowner.

We currently have four different contractors performing work for us. Our five-year average on the roadside distribution side is roughly 81,000 trees trimmed or removed each year. For the off-road rights of way side, we average 137,000 trees trimmed or removed in the same span. This type of vigilant maintenance is effective in increasing our resilience to high-wind situations and storms by decreasing the amount of potential damage as a result of fallen trees.

What can you do to help?

If you are concerned about trees on or near your property, please visit the Tree Trimming Safety page on our website for more information about safety and contact information.

Our vegetation management crews do their best to maintain trees that get too close to power lines. They prune trees and other vegetation to help prevent outages for customers.

Ian Brizdle is a digital communications analyst at Hawaiian Electric Company.

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Hawaiian Electric

Established in 1891, Hawaiian Electric is committed to empowering its customers and communities by providing affordable, reliable, clean and sustainable energy.