Outages hit Oahu hardest
HECO goes slowly in bringing customers back online to avoid any further damage
More than half of Hawaiian Electric Co.'s 290,000 customers were without power some 12 hours after yesterday's magnitude-6.6 earthquake off the Big Island as crews worked painstakingly throughout the day to restore service.
The electric company was being careful not to risk further damage by bringing everyone back too quickly, partly explaining why so many were without power last night.
All customers were expected to have power restored by this morning.
"It's been a long time since we've had to deal with outages of this magnitude," HECO spokeswoman Lynne Unemori said. "The folks have really pulled together to try to get customers restored as quickly as possible while making sure we did it in such a way that we keep everyone safe."
While all of Hawaiian Electric's customers on Oahu lost power after the 7:07 a.m. earthquake and several aftershocks, power failures were not as widespread on other islands.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Manoa Safeway switched to its emergency power system yesterday during the power failure on Oahu caused by the earthquakes off Kona on the Big Island. People were able to shop for supplies in the dark, and even use their charge cards, because of the store's emergency power system. Here, Barbara Tereschuk, her brother Mike Tereschuk and his daughter, Sylvie, looked for necessities. CLICK FOR LARGE
Residents on Kauai, farthest from the quake's epicenter, never lost service.
About 48,000 of Hawaii Electric Light Co.'s 80,000 customers on the Big Island lost power after the quake, with most coming back online by 5 p.m. Power was slower in coming back to about 50 customers in Honokaa and North Kohala, where two power lines were down as a result of the quake.
Warren Lee, president of HELCO, said that in addition to the power lines, only a steam generator in Hilo appeared to suffer any structural damage.
"Everything else seems to be OK," Lee said.
Maui Electric Co. President Ed Reinhardt said the utility's 61,000 customers lost power after the quake, but service was restored to everyone by 3:30 p.m. There were no reported outages on Molokai and Lanai.
"Fortunately, we did not experience any type of damage to our lines or generating facilities," Reinhardt said.
The main cause of the outages was the shaking itself.
Utility officials said the systems are designed to shut down in the event of seismic activity such as yesterday's temblor. The shutdown is a preventive measure to guard against further damage.
"The jarring caused some sensors in the generator to trip off," said Maui's Reinhardt.
Bringing the systems back online usually takes time, the officials said, because the electrical systems, power lines and generators all have to be checked to make sure there is no further damage.
The situation was more aggravated on Oahu.
Two of Hawaiian Electric's generators "tripped out" after the quake, Unemori said.
After that happened, other generators attempted to compensate for the loss of the two tripped generators -- one at the company's Honolulu facility and the other at its Kahe Point power plant -- causing uneven power "loads" on the other parts of the electricity distribution chain, she said.
The uneven loads forced the entire system to shut down as a precaution against further damage to the entire system.
Unemori said the restoration process is slow and methodical because "we want to maintain the stability of the electric system. ... We have to do it carefully."
Bringing the systems back too quickly could have resulted in further damage or overloads, leading to more outages, she said.
She thanked customers for their patience, as various communities came online slowly throughout the day.
"I think the protective systems acted as they are supposed to, and our incident-command team worked as it was supposed to," Unemori said.
"We've worked very well as a team with all of our other partners, from the state and the city, the folks at Civil Defense, the Police Department, the Fire Department, the media," she added. "It's been a real team effort, not just on Hawaiian Electric's part."