Hawaiian Grid Operator Prioritized Green Energy Over Wildfire Readiness

Hawaiian Electric, the utility firm linked to the Hawaiian fires, seems to have prioritized green energy growth while disregarding its own safety assessment for enhancing existing infrastructure, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

After the devastating 2019 wildfire season on Maui, Hawaiian Electric recognized the urgency to prevent hardware sparks. The company, however, seemed to make limited progress before a power line was implicated in last week’s fatal fires.

Instead, the firm allocated substantial resources to green energy projects during the time between its assessment and the recent wildfires.

Mina Morita, chair of the state utilities commission from 2011 to 2015, said, “While there was concern for wildfire risk, politically, the focus was on electricity generation.”

Between 2019 and 2022, Hawaiian Electric allocated under $245,000 to wildfire-specific initiatives on the island. This expenditure came after the company acknowledged the need for greater measures against spark-related risks in 2019.

Although a 2019 press release committed to wildfire risk reduction and preparedness, the company’s regulatory filings with the state agency seemingly treated wildfire danger as secondary rather than a priority.

While publicly committing to heightened risk reduction efforts, Hawaiian Electric embarked on an extensive endeavor to achieve the state’s long-term green energy targets. An audit in 2020 of the company’s management systems revealed a predominant emphasis on financial risks, with limited scrutiny of operational risks.

Furthermore, the division overseeing power line operations within the company encountered notable management challenges.

Doug McLeod, who served as the Maui County energy commissioner, said, “Looking back with hindsight, the business opportunities were on the generation side, and the utility was going out for bid with all these big renewable-energy projects. But in retrospect, it seems clear; we weren’t as focused on these fire risks as we should have been.”

Hawaiian Electric’s purported oversights preceding the disaster have attracted attention and censure, yet they are not the sole entity potentially responsible for the calamity. While numerous Democrats promptly highlighted climate change’s potential impact on the catastrophe, recent reports suggest that inadequate state land management policies, shortcomings in the local 911 system, ineffective emergency sirens and deficient fire hydrants collectively contributed to the devastating fires in Lahaina. This Maui town bore the brunt of the impact.

According to the WSJ, the utility company has pledged complete cooperation with investigations into the tragedy’s causes and consequences.

Hawaiian Electric holds significant political influence and connections in Hawaii. However, the crisis and a series of reports linking its hardware to the fire’s ignition have significantly affected the company’s finances and share price.

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