Hawaii County

Big Island power failure blacks
out 42 percent of customers

By Rod Thompson

KAILUA-KONA >> On the busiest shopping day of the year, the Hawaii Electric Light Co. lost power yesterday to 42 percent of its Big Island customers.

The failure started at 4:38 a.m., so there was little immediate affect on businesses, but even after power was restored in most areas by 7:47 a.m., brief outages continued.

The Kona Kmart opened at 4:45 a.m. without problems but during midmorning suffered two failures of a couple of minutes each, said manager Bob O'Meara.

"It certainly was a concern on the busiest day of the year," he said.

The 4:38 a.m. outage was caused by a short circuit at Helco's Huehue substation, which serves an area from the edge of Kailua-Kona to the Makalei golf course six miles to the north. The precise cause was unknown late yesterday, said Helco spokesman Jay Ignacio.

The Huehue failure caused the entire 60-megawatt generation of independent Hamakua Energy Partners to trip off. That loss was "unexpected," and engineers were trying to understand it, Ignacio said.

In all, 28,000 business and residential customers lost power out of Helco's 66,000-customer total.

Most had power back by 5:30 a.m., but increasing morning usage forced Helco to deliberately turn off power to 14,000 customers between 5:36 and 7:47 a.m. Rolling blackouts were carried out in parts of Hilo and the Puna, North and South Kona, and Kau districts.

Power stayed off for 2,500 customers in North Kona, the last getting it back at 1:07 p.m.

"Get used to it. There's lots more coming," said Marni Herkes on her last day as executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce. "We are underpowered by a great deal."

Her replacement, Linda Sasaki, said a neighbor in Kona Palisades subdivision reported not getting power back until noon.

Herkes said "unbelievable" residential growth is taking place in Kona, yet Helco's planned Keahole plant in North Kona has been stymied by lawsuits for a decade, and the Puna Geothermal plant will remain out of production at least until Dec. 9 while a new well is drilled.

"I do think we're in for an interesting winter," she said.

County of Hawaii

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