Electric bills expected to rise slightly to pay for severe-weather hardening of power grids
The severe-weather hardening of island power grids will cost approximately $190 million, with half paid by the federal government and half coming from Hawaiʻi power consumers, according to an announcement from Hawaiian Electric Co.
The estimated impact on a typical monthly bill for a residential customer using 500 kilowatt hours will be 39 cents in Maui County, 17 cents on O‘ahu and 47 cents on Hawai‘i Island, the utility reported.
The announcement comes after the Public Utilities Commission approved Hawaiian Electric’s $190 million Climate Adaptation Transmission and Distribution Resilience Program application. The program aims to help defend against the increasing threat of wildfires and harden the utility’s five island electric grids against severe weather-related events fueled by climate change. Work on Maui includes replacing power poles and conductors on two high-priority transmission lines.
The PUC decision enables Hawaiian Electric to move forward with $95 million in funding granted under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Matching funds will be paid by Hawaiian Electric customers. By applying for and receiving the federal grant, Hawaiian Electric reduced the cost to customers by half.
“As climate change progresses, the frequency and severity of severe weather events is likely to increase,” the PUC stated in its decision. “Given the critical services that rely on electric service to function and our state’s geographic isolation, it is imperative that our electric grid be able to withstand these growing challenges.”
Hawaiian Electric’s five-year plan includes a slate of initial, foundational grid resilience investments. These include the replacement and strengthening of 2,100 poles on critical circuits, as the first phase of a long-term climate adaptation effort. Investing in a more resilient power system will address the increasing threat of wildfires, reduce the severity of damage when major events happen and enable service to be restored more quickly.
President Joe Biden announced the award of the federal grant when he visited Maui on Aug. 21, 13 days after a wildfire leveled Lahaina town.
“We appreciate the PUC’s approval of our plan, and we thank the US Department of Energy and the Biden Administration for their funding support as we work with partners across the state to help Maui recover, to reduce the risk of wildfires and to make our system stronger,” said Colton Ching, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of planning and technology.
The program includes:
- Wildfire mitigation – System hardening and increased situational awareness and control (e.g., cameras, sensors and reclosers) in areas identified as having elevated wildfire risk
- Hazard tree removal – The removal – not trimming – of large off-right-of-way trees that are weak, dead, diseased or structurally compromised and pose a risk to falling on power lines
- Critical transmission hardening – Replacing poles and conductors on high-priority transmission lines, including two on Maui
- Critical circuit hardening – Strengthening circuits serving critical customers such as hospitals, public infrastructure and critical defense facilities
- Critical pole hardening and replacement – For example, replacing poles that support multiple circuits with fire-resistant materials
- Putting underground portions of certain distribution circuits
- Control center resilience – Hardening of existing system control centers, relocating and elevating the Maui control center to avoid flooding and developing a backup control center on Oʻahu
Hawaiian Electric first began developing its wildfire safety strategy in 2019. The utility reports that it continues to adapt its strategy to address elevated risks, including wildfires.