Transformer blamed for island-wide outage

LIHU‘E — It could have been worse. It could have been raining.

The power outage that occurred at the peak of the Wednesday afternoon rush hour was an island-wide shutdown. It was an hour-long disruption for most communities, but some neighborhoods in the Lihu‘e area were still without power at 10:30 p.m.

The outage started around 5:15 p.m. when the Kapaia Power Station generators were tripped by a transformer failure at Port Allen, KIUC spokeswoman Maile Moriguchi said. It was a peak load time at the plant and led to the island-wide outage.

The insulator flash was caused by a transformer equipment failure at the Port Allen facility, KIUC spokeswoman Shelley Paik said. To some passers-by it appeared as a fire, but she said the insulator flash causes visible electrical arcing that only looks like lightning.

Princeville was one of the last circuits to go back online, according to Paik. Subdivisions  affected in Lihu‘e included Kukui Grove Center and Ulu Mahi.

The Kapaia unit was still off-line at 10 p.m. It was the last of the four generators that feed into the transformer. Paik said it became easier to re-energize circuits as the evening peak period passed.

“We want to thank everyone for being patient and cooperating while we were trying to restore power,” she said.

Generators started sending power back into the grid just after 6:30 p.m. Moriguchi said KIUC started producing around 12 megawatts at a time when the plant output is generally around 60 megawatts.

The Port Allen control room directed the blackout to a brownout as demand kept power unstable during the peak evening demand.

About two-thirds of the island was back on by 8 p.m.,  KIUC board member Jan Tenbruggencate said. The peak evening load is about 69 megawatts,  and the Kapaia turbine produces 27 megawatts on its own.

“That represents more than a third of the peak load, and that is an important chunk,” he added.

An island temporarily without traffic lights created a rush hour snarl even with  polite aloha drivers stopping and taking turns at uncontrolled intersections.

 The Kaua‘i Police Department said it responded by sending officers to the major intersections.

Highway workers were reportedly helping to direct traffic near their work sites.

The Kaua‘i County Council was deliberating a bill to propose further property tax exemption for Kaua‘i residents when the power went out shortly before 5:30 p.m. Council Chair Jay Furfaro ordered the meeting to reconvene at 8:30 a.m. today.

Restaurants lost customers to the blackout, and seemed busier than normal as the power came on and drivers pulled over to wait out the chaos.

“We had a full restaurant” when the lights went out, Adam Dooley, manager of Kaua‘i Pasta in Lihu‘e, said. “Customers hung around for about 30 minutes but then started leaving.”

He said about an hour later the restaurant, along with the other neighboring establishments, was filled to near capacity.

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