Hawaiian Electric was aware of infrastructure issues that could contribute to a wildfire threat, but focused on shifting the company to renewable energy rather than fixing the problems, the Wall reported Thursday. StreetJournal.
The utility company concluded in 2019 that it needed to invest more to prevent its power lines from sparking, among other issues. Consulting with California’s efforts to reduce wildfires, the company has developed a plan to install more insulated conductors, fire-retardant poles and more aggressive monitoring technology.
However, the company barely pursued those goals over the next two years, investing less than $250,000 in wildfire-fighting projects, according to the Journal. He did not seek state permission to raise rates to pay for wildfire prevention until 2022.
Instead, the company has focused on a state-mandated transition to renewable energy.
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“You have to look at the scope and scale of the transformation within [Hawaiian Electric] it was happening throughout the system,” Mina Morita, who chaired the state’s public utilities commission from 2011 to 2015, told the WSJ. “While the risk of forest fires was of concern, politically the focus was on power generation.
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Today, the company is under intense scrutiny over the role its power lines may have played in the deadliest wildfire in US history, which claimed the lives of 110 people Thursday.
Asked about its investments in wildfire protection, Hawaiian Electric highlighted the tens of millions of dollars it has spent maintaining and working trees in Maui County since 2019, totaling approximately $84 million.
Witnesses who survived the fire in Lahaina, Hawaii also reported that Hawaiian Electric trucks were blocking the roads residents were trying to use to escape the blaze.
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Resident Cole Millington, 26, described “epic bumper-to-bumper traffic” in an interview with NBC News.
“There were no police in sight. What there were were Hawaiian Electric trucks coming in with new telephone poles,” he continued. “Instead of waiting for everyone to get out, they were blocking the only way out with their big trucks.”