Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why do we have so many #&?! power outages on Maui?

I’ve never had this many power outages before moving to Maui. Not on Oahu, where I grew up, not on the East Coast, not in Kauai, not even in Russia during a year abroad.  Where I live on Maui, on the north shore, it seems we get outages once a month. DH thinks it’s closer to twice a month. He also likes to complain about Maui having the highest electric rates in the country.

Let’s see – January – we’ve had two power outages. The first one affected many parts of the island and Molokai. A windstorm after New Year’s Day that metaphorically blew aloha shirts across the island, caused more inconvenience to a larger number of people than the non-hurricanes we had last year. Hurricane Iselle hit Ulupalakua hard, but spared the rest of the island and for most of us, was a non-event. This windstorm knocked out power at my house for 24 hours, Friday night to late Saturday night) and in Olinda, we found out later, friends lost power for two days. They lost $700 worth of fish in that time. Luckily we had a power inverter that ran the fridge from the car every few hours.  It wasn’t perfect, but we didn’t lose much.

Surreal aloha shirt that's trying to fly.

On my street, the upper half lost power the first night and got power back the next morning. The lower part of my street got power back one day later. According to our neighbor, this was the longest power outage on Maui in 20 years.  Usually, we get these mild-mannered Clark Kent power outages – they even apologize afterwards for the inconvenience.  Typically, they last a few minutes, to maybe a few hours, and often occur in the middle of the night with little effect. The second power outage in January lasted just a few hours thankfully. A few days later, the lights flickered off completely twice, but we didn’t lose power.

This power inverter connected to the car battery managed to keep the fridge mostly cold.
It needed constant monitoring because it was at the edge of its capacity.

By the way, I am forever replacing light bulbs in our house, even the compact fluorescent ones which are supposed to last for years.  The electricity seems to flow erratically, with power surges and dips. One of my lights has to be adjusted frequently because it is either too bright or too dim at night. A surge protector is a good item to protect one’s expensive electrical items. Better yet, get more surge protectors. Why stop at one?

So why are there so many #&?! power outages on Maui?

This is SPECULATION based on grains of truth:

1. Maui has mostly above ground (read: exposed) power lines so that any car accident caused by any drunk driver or druggie on crystal meth can take out a power line.

2. The wind. Maui has more wind than the other islands. So when the wind shakes the lines or the jungle overgrowth along the lines, the power can fluctuate or stop.

3. Those huge eucalyptus trees. When there’s a good rain, the branches can swell with water and crash to the ground without warning.  The strong wind can also knock down other trees, so Olinda with all its big beautiful trees along the main road, is particularly susceptible to longer outages.

Tree cutter at the top of a huge eucalyptus tree.

4. Maybe our lines are old and not as maintained as they could be. This is my “old age” theory.

5. All the hippies live in my neighborhood and they climb up the poles in acts of anarchy and protest. If you believe this, I have a bridge to sell you in the desert.

6. Variation on the Jungle Overgrowth Theory. For example, bamboo along our neighbor’s fence grows along the power lines. The bamboo moves a lot and may disrupt the lines. Also, if the bamboo is not trimmed carefully, the lines can get damaged.

7. A friend's public Facebook post stirred up a discussion about Maui Electric (MECO) and several outages that were not caused by extreme weather. Some of the reasons suggested include: centralized power generation instead of "point of use" power generation, with inefficient methods of transmitting power, as well as greed (lack of support for decentralized solar power connected to the grid) and conflict of interests by MECO. 

How to avoid power outages?

Live in Pukalani. For some reason, friends in Pukalani were hardly affected by the first January power outage. Live in a newer neighborhood with newer infrastructure. Or get solar energy installed with Haleakala Solar or another good company, and you will no longer be at the mercy of Maui Electric. In the meantime, get more candles!

Update 2/16/15: We had a nasty windstorm on Valentine's Day, which caused a freak power outage due to a neighbor's Costco portable car canopy that flew into our power line.


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