Footprint Project Seeks Donations to Support Maui Wildfire Response

Aug. 24, 2023
Footprint Project has already deployed 4 microgrids, with 10 more enroute to the island.

Footprint Project, a nonprofit organization that provides microgrids and other emergency energy systems during disasters, is seeking assistance to support its deployment of mobile microgrids to Maui in the wake of wildfires there.

On Aug. 8, four wildfires broke out on the Hawaiian island of Maui, leaving a path of absolute devastation. Hardest hit was the historic town of Lahaina, which was completely destroyed.

The Lahaina fire was the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, and the fifth deadliest on record since 1871. With more than 100 known casualties, the death toll surpassed that of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, which killed 85 people in 2018.

With around 1,000 people still unaccounted for, officials expect the death toll to climb higher.

Once home to 13,000 year-round residents, Lahaina’s survivors are now faced with the challenges that come with rebuilding their beloved community from the ashes.

Caring for the survivors is now top priority for the state, the federal government and numerous charitable and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) – a task made all the more difficult thanks to significant damage to the local power grid.

On its website, Hawaiian Electric is warning customers that the power is expected to be out for an extended period – weeks, in some cases – although Footprint Project’s on-the-ground partners report the estimated time to recovery for the grid could be as long as a month in some areas.

Four microgrids already deployed

Footprint Project has taken on the role of being a conduit between the microgrid industry and on-the-ground community relief needs.

“We are coordinating remotely with local NGOs, local government, local solar installers and microgrid industry partners to provide free emergency power for community relief hubs across the affected area,” Jamie Swezey, program director at Footprint Project, told Microgrid Knowledge.

To date, Footprint Project and its partners have deployed four microgrids in the disaster area, some of which were built on Maui in the aftermath of the fire. One is located at Napili Park, a large community relief hub that has centralized supply and meal distribution, child care, counseling and medical services. It is also the site of a long-term K-12 school for students whose schools were damaged in the fire.

The other three microgrids are supporting other neighborhood resilience hubs in the affected area. These community-led facilities are often housed in community centers, places of worship, recreation facilities and even vacant lots. Most of the time, the resilience hubs are gathering places for the community, but during times of disaster and the ensuing recovery, they provide essential services such as food, emergency communications and more. 

Support needed for short-term and long-term microgrid deployments

Minnesota-based Footprint Project has 10 more systems of various sizes enroute to the island, but, according to Swezey, it’s looking to deploy as many as it can, based on site needs, available equipment and resources.

“We are continuously fielding emergency power requests, assessing potential sites, intaking in-kind equipment donations, procuring equipment for assembly and deployment, and coordinating and paying teams of local solar installers to commission and maintain microgrid systems,” she said.

Footprint Project has served many communities on the mainland as it mobilized in response to Hurricane Ida, Winter Storm Uri and other natural disasters. But Maui is different; Swezey said it’s shaping up to be one of the organization’s largest and longest term responses.

Footprint Project is seeking cash donations to enable it to support the impacted communities for the long haul.

“Procuring needed microgrid equipment that we can't get donated [usually that's storage or balance of systems] is expensive, and our goal is to leave it all permanently with the community,” Swezey said. She added, “We also want to be able to pay local solar installers to assist with microgrid deployment and ongoing maintenance. Lastly, we are a small nonprofit organization and cash helps Footprint Project cover our logistics and disaster management and coordination costs.”

The organization is also looking for in-kind turnkey/all-in-one mobile microgrids for response efforts and microgrid components for long-term rebuild efforts. Swezey said its greatest need is batteries and all-in-one systems.

In 2022, Footprint Project was a finalist for the Microgrid Knowledge Greater Good Award and Will Heegaard, the organization’s operations director, was named Microgrid Knowledge Person of the Year.

For more details on what’s needed or to donate, go to Footprint Project’s website.

About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.

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