Mother nature possesses a litany of destructive forces to disrupt the otherwise tranquil and efficient delivery of electricity. Hurricanes, heat waves, cold fronts, and wildfires are some of her favorites. Add volcanic eruptions to the list.
On May 3, the Kilauea Volcano erupted in the Lower Puna district of the Big Island of Hawaii. The eruption occurred in a residential subdivision known as Leilani Estates.
Unfortunately, the event has impacted power delivery.
The Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) is an independent power producer that has sold electricity to Hawaii Electric Light since 1992. The facility was shut down after the eruptions began. It was later damaged by the spread of lava.
Hawaii Electric Light has used drones and ground inspections to see the impact of the lava flows on its equipment. The inspections reveal that more than 400 poles and other equipment have been damaged.
Destruction of utility equipment has cut off electric connection to four areas within the utility's service territory: Kapoho, Lanipuna Gardens, Leilani Estates, and areas along Highway 132. About 800 customers in these areas are experiencing extended power outages.
The utility is working on plans to re-energize customers, but no restoration work will be done in areas with active eruption activity. Engineers are developing contingency plans to minimize extended power outages. Plans include traditional generators, portable solar-battery-generator "packages," and temporary steel poles that can span lava fields and connect to undamaged distribution lines.
However, customers in some areas are being told to expect extended outages. The utility warns that it could be months before the ground is stable enough to support the installation of even temporary replacement poles.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, as of May 31, vigorous eruption of lava continues in the area. Activity includes fountains, spatter cones and flows of lava. Residents of some areas have been ordered to evacuate.