HELCO says tree-clearing prevented widespread outages during Darby

Tree-clearing post-Tropical Storm Darby (Photo: HELCO)

Hawaii Electric Light Company says advance work to clear albizia trees on Hawaii Island helped prevent worse damage to electrical lines during Tropical Storm Darby.

Unlike the widespread damage caused during Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014, the utility says none of the main transmission lines that serve as the backbone of the island’s electric grid were damaged by falling albizia trees.

“What was abundantly evident were the number of outages that were far below what we had expected throughout our districts given the high density of foliage and trees, specifically those remaining albizia tree stands in lower Puna,” said Ed Texeira, Hawaii county director of emergency management.

In 2014, albizia trees that fell during Iselle significantly damaged transmission lines, causing causing widespread outages and prolonging the power restoration process.

Those trees needed to be cleared and the lines repaired first before line crews could work in neighborhoods impacted by the storm.

“These were different storms, but it appears the tree-clearing effort we began after Iselle made a difference for our customers. Darby did cause some localized outages in some communities, but it was not the same type of damage to our main transmission lines that caused widespread outages that we saw during Iselle,” said Jay Ignacio, Hawaii Electric Light president.

Since 2014, HELCO has spent an estimated $14 million and cleared nearly 94,000 trees, 31,000 of which were albizia.

Organizations like the Big Island Invasive Species Committee also worked to remove albizia from many of the communities throughout the lower Puna area that were severely impacted by Iselle.

Earlier this month, HELCO and the Hawaii Department of Transportation announced a new partnership to clear thousands of the invasive trees across the island, focusing on areas where trees threaten both state highways and utility equipment.

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