Hawaii power company launches effort to prevent wildfires with advanced outages

Hawaii’s largest utility company is launching a new initiative involving advanced power shutoffs in an attempt to prevent wildfires following last year’s deadly fires.

As part of Hawaiian Electric Co.’s (HECO) “public safety power shutoff program,” the company may preemptively shut off power in areas with forecasted high winds and dry conditions, the company announced Wednesday.

“This program is our last line of defense to keep communities safe and may result in extended power outages,” the company wrote in a statement.

The company said it may expand beyond areas of higher wildfire risk factors in the future and hopes to eventually cover “all high-risk areas” it serves.

More than 48,000 Hawaiian Electric Co. customers could begin seeing these advance shut-offs starting July 1, the company said.

The Maui wildfires last August killed 101 people, while damaging or destroying more than 2,000 structures and burning more than 2,000 acres, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. An estimated 4,500 people were displaced, and the damage is estimated to cost around $5.5 billion.

HECO came under scrutiny for not having a shutoff plan in place ahead of the fires, and it later acknowledged its downed power lines started the first Maui blaze.

“Wildfires have been recognized as a top hazard facing Hawaii. Hawaiian Electric has responded with a multi-pronged approach to mitigating wildfire risk,” Jim Alberts, HECO’s senior vice president and chief operations officer, said in a statement.

The company asked residents in the boundaries of the new shutdown program to have their own plan in place should an extended outage occur, The Associated Press reported. About 1,180 “medically vulnerable” customers in the new boundaries have registered with HECO to allow the company to work with them directly during an outage, AP added.

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