Hawaii Electric Light Company’s work to clear albizia trees helped ease the effects of Tropical Storm Darby on the island’s electric system. None of the main transmission lines that serve as the backbone of the island’s electric grid were damaged by falling albizia trees during Darby, unlike the widespread damage caused during Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014.
“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 Teixeira, Hawaii county director of emergency management. “There is no doubt, in my view, that Hawaii Electric Light’s proactive approach and monetary investment to mitigate the effects of tree and tree limb hazards along its transmission corridors directly contributed to the relatively low number of outages reported during the pre-landfall and landfall phases of Tropical Storm Darby.”
Those transmission lines suffered significant damage from falling albizia trees during Iselle, 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.
Falling trees, branches, and tree bark are the main cause of power outages on Hawaii Island. Hawaii Electric Light trims and removes trees and other vegetation island-wide throughout the year. Since 2014, it has spent an estimated $14 million and cleared nearly 94,000 trees, 31,000 of which were albizia.
After Iselle, Hawaii Electric Light focused its work on clearing albizia and other trees from the areas around its main transmission lines. 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.
Albizia, an invasive species in Hawaii, is known as one of the fastest growing trees in the world and is capable of reaching 200 feet. With broad, shallow root systems, the trees and their brittle limbs easily fall during strong winds.
Earlier this month, Hawaii Electric Light and the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) announced a new partnership to clear thousands of the invasive trees across the island. Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding, Hawaii Electric Light will oversee $1.5 million in work by contractors over the next year to clear albizia, focusing on areas where trees threaten both state highways and utility equipment.