Power went out on Molokai Dec. 19, 22 and 26, affecting some customers — particularly on the East End but also other parts of the island — for over an hour each time. There has also been at least another two short outages over the past several weeks.
When the outage is reported, Maui Electric Company typically makes a public statement that reads: “MECO is working to identify the cause and restore electrical service as quickly and safely as possible.” This is small consolation to customers who lose electricity for lighting and essential appliances while they are in use. Sometimes, when the power comes back, the appliances will experience glitches because of a power surge that scrambles the internal electronics.
MECO Communications Director Kau’i Awai-Dickson searched for an explanation when contacted by phone on Dec. 27. By the end of the day she was able to provide the following statement from Joe Kentz, MECO’s Transmission and Distribution Manager:
We sincerely apologize for the inconveniences caused by recent power outages on Molokai. The initial causes of several of these power outages are attributed to various reasons including trees or branches in power lines or equipment, vehicle pole accidents, and electrical equipment problems.
There are, however, a few outages, including the two most recent outages on Dec. 22 and Dec. 26, for which the cause remains under investigation. What we do know is that a sudden decrease in frequency triggers the load shed scheme which automatically turns off power to certain circuits to avoid damaging the entire system.
What we do not know and have been investigating is exactly what is causing this frequency depression. Resolving this situation for our Molokai customers is a top priority for us. Know that we are dedicating all the time and effort necessary to identify the cause. Technicians have been investigating the system on all levels. We have made adjustments to how and when the automatic load shed scheme kicks in and have also replaced equipment, some as recent as early this week, to try to improve the situation.
We have made some recent strides in improving the Molokai electrical system. About a year ago, we conducted a thorough inspection of Molokai’s electrical infrastructure and put in place a detailed plan of action to upgrade and improve the system. As a result, over the past 11 months, Maui Electric’s Molokai crew has worked hard replacing utility poles and hardware and upgrading equipment.
To date, 35 poles and 103 transformers have been switched out and tree inspections and trimming are conducted regularly. In addition, 65 street lights have been repaired or replaced. And, in an effort to protect Molokai’s endangered seabird population, these streetlights have been shielded to minimize upward lighting.
On Nov. 7, Maui Electric invited the community to a public meeting at Mitchell Pau’ole Center to share information about a proposed battery project that we hope will contribute to the resiliency of our electrical system.
In partnership with the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) and with the support of the Molokai community, Maui Electric proposed to install a battery energy storage system that could provide needed support to the grid due to the high number of photovoltaic systems on the Molokai system. The information we shared with attendees that evening is available on HNEI’s web site at www.hnei.hawaii.edu.
We recently sent a letter to affected customers regarding this situation and we appreciate your willingness to help us communicate with the Molokai community. We will keep you apprised of our progress as we continue our investigation.