HECO sees hope in new generator
POSTED: Monday, December 29, 2008
Hawaiian Electric Co. crews will head into the mountains today, inspecting heavy transmission lines for clues to Friday's islandwide blackout, utility officials said.
Hawaiian Electric crews worked overnight to bring electricity back to pockets of customers still in the dark nearly two full days after the island wide blackout.
But it could take a week of detective work to identify the cause, warned Robbie Alm, executive vice president of HECO, at a news conference yesterday.
"We obviously deeply regret, as the operator of the system, that we did have the outage ... particularly during the holiday season," said Alm.
HECO restored power to the last 125 customers left in the dark in pocket areas of the island by 6 a.m. yesterday.
Most customers had power restored by 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
The power failure occurred during an electrical storm, and lightning is a prime suspect for it.
Alm said they have "eyewitness and police reports of significant lightning hitting either our towers or our wires."
He said crews will look for visible signs of lightning strikes on wires and check substations for clues as to what the system was doing when it began shutting down. Even lightning that missed wires could send a surge into the line and disrupt the system without leaving a trace on the wire, he said.
"We really do have to get up close to the wire, do a lot of diagnostic work and then see what our system can tell us about what happened," he said. "We did the helicopter flyover, but now we'd like to take a much more detailed look."
The power failure started at about 6:30 p.m. Friday after four 138,000-kilovolt lines tripped off, causing generators to shut down. The system shed load to prevent damage to equipment that could take weeks to months to repair, HECO officials said.
One generator remained on until 8:30 p.m. when it shut off, leaving the island—293,000 customers—in the dark.
After restarting the system Saturday, engineers found no damaged equipment.
The four 138,000-kilovolt transmission lines that were affected Friday run between the Kahe power station in Nanakuli and the Waiau station in Pearl City; Nanakuli and Haleiwa; Pearl City to the Koolaus; and Haleiwa to the School Street substation.
Alm said it could be at least next week before a primary cause is nailed down.
While Hawaii's power grid is less stable than on the mainland, a new power generator coming online next summer in Campbell Industrial Park will reduce the startup time during an islandwide power failure by about two to four hours, Alm said.
The combustion engine generator—equivalent to a jet engine, while the current generators are steam engines—will start in about 10 minutes, giving engineers a jump start.
In Friday's outage the first generators back online took 4 1/2 hours to restart.
"Once you get the first unit up, everything begins to fall into line," Alm said.
Meanwhile, state officials said yesterday morning that operations were running normally at Honolulu Airport and that it was "business as usual" in the tourism industry.
Marsha Wienert, the state's tourism liaison, said hotels and restaurants received fewer complaints this weekend than in previous emergencies by providing better information to tourists during the blackout.
Hotels put up dry-erase boards and bulletins with updated information for hotel guests. But more important, hotels better maintained their generators by turning them on on a regular basis as compared with the 2006 earthquake, where many hotel generators did not work.
"(Saturday) afternoon I spent touching base with most of the properties in Waikiki," Wienert said yesterday in a conference call with reporters. "Everyone's comment was that this particular emergency was handled so much better than the previous ones that we had. (Yesterday) morning, it's back to business as usual."
Brennon Morioka, state transportation director, said there was some delay on Saturday morning after several airlines postponed their flights. But by yesterday morning, normal operations had resumed.
"Once the flights starting coming back in, we were basically back to normal," Morioka said. "We had no long lines that were a result of the day before."
Electricians fired up the airport's five backup generators later Friday night, which allowed for some outbound flights to get airborne. However, the state expects to complete a $25 million-to-$30 million power plant exclusively for the airport within two or three years.