Fire reached within 150 feet of main power plant

Maalaea facility provides 80% of fossil fuel production

Thursday’s wildfire got to within 150 feet of the power plant that produces more than 80 percent of the island’s fossil-fuel-generated power and hosts the control systems for industry scale renewable energy, according to Maui Electric Co.

Firefighters had set up a defensive position as the fire approached the Maalaea Power Plant on Thursday, Fire Services Chief Rylan Yatsushiro said at a news conference.

MECO had reduced its power plant staffing to essential personnel only, about 50 workers, “in the interest of safety” and working with the Maui fire and police departments, MECO spokeswoman Shayna Decker said on Friday. She said the fire burned to 150 feet of the power plant but did not cause damage to the facility.

If the power plant had to be evacuated or was damaged, MECO had “different contingency plans in place for various scenarios should any of our generating facilities or assets be impacted,” she said. Decker did not specifically address what would have happened if the 212-megawatt plant had been rendered inoperative, but noted that the plant could be operated from alternative locations.

For example, there are alternative sites for system controls for privately generated, large-scale renewable power, such as wind and solar, at the Kahului dispatch office and at the Kahului Power Plant at Kahului Harbor, she said.

Decker noted that there are no control systems for smaller, less than 250-kilowatt private rooftop solar systems on homes and businesses.

MECO has a backup facility in Wailuku that could offer limited control of the generators at the Maalaea plant, she said.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said at a Thursday news conference that the Maalaea Power Plant could supply enough power on two of its generators. The 37.6-MW Kahului Power Plant also could fill in, he said.

In addition to the power plant, the fire threatened MECO’s 69-kilovolt transmission lines that run from the plant, Decker said. This includes lines from Maalaea to the Kuihelani Substation, Maalaea to Kihei and Maalaea to Kula.

After assessments, MECO learned Thursday that the fire damaged parts of the Maalaea-to-Kihei transmission line that crews were working to repair Friday. Electrical service currently was being supplied on a redundant line, the utility said.

While repairs were underway, MECO asked customers to conserve electricity Friday between the peak-use hours of 5 and 9 p.m., the utility said. MECO was confident that it would have enough generating capacity to meet evening peak demand, though conservation would ensure sufficient power.

Currently, no generating facilities have been directly affected by the fire, Decker said. Crews continued to take preventative measures at the Maalaea plant with the fire not fully extinguished.

She noted that the plant has firebreaks cut around the facility, water cannons, tanks and hose pumps. Staff members receive fire response training, as well.

“We take our responsibility of providing safe and reliable service very seriously,” Decker said.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.