OAN’s Taylor Tinsley
5:08 PM – Thursday, September 28, 2023
The president of Hawaiian Electric Co. and the island nation’s top public officials testified in a congressional hearing over the devastating wildfires that scorched Lahaina.
On Thursday, a House committee questioned Hawaiian Electric President and CEO, Shelee Kimura, Chairman of Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, Leodoloff Asuncion Jr., and the state’s Chief Energy Officer, Mark Glick.
Wildfires swept across the island of Maui in August and killed at least 97 people, with many still missing.
The fires are estimated to have caused $4 to $6 billion in economic losses and the direct cause has yet to be determined.
“According to an estimate from the University of Hawaii’s Pacific Disaster Center, at least 2,200 buildings were destroyed, with about 86 percent of those buildings being residential,” said committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).
Lawmakers questioned the role Hawaii’s electrical grid had in the fires, and whether it was properly maintained.
Committee Chair Representative Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) questioned why Hawaiian Electric failed to shut off the power despite receiving red flag warnings from the National Weather Service.
The Virginia representative reportedly wanted insight into the company’s protocols and what would warrant them to de-energize.
“In 2019, our teams started developing a wildfire mitigation plan. Based on what they had learned of the plans in California, including their preemptive shutoff programs, that wasn’t the appropriate fit for Hawaii. Hawaii is very unique,” Kimura said.
Kimura said that the company had other protocols in place for high winds and a shutoff was simply not in the protocol. The CEO, however, affirmed that they are now re-examining.
Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) is a strategy used in states like California, Nevada, and Oregon that shuts down the power in communities experiencing high wind conditions with increased fire risk.
However, the plan may not have helped the case for Hawaii, because in California, for example, there is specific legislation that protects utility companies from certain liabilities that may result from power shutoffs.
During the hearing, Hawaii’s Chief Energy Officer Mark Glick acknowledged policy changes must be made when it comes to preventing damage to power lines and the spread of wildfires through vegetation management.
Both Glick and Kimura also said that utility officials need to work on cooperative efforts with private landowners.
“Our vegetation management is around our lines,” Kimura said. “Our easements and rights of way do not give us the right, it is not a stated right, to take care of the grass under our lines on private property.”
Kimura stated that she believes this is a critical issue that all Hawaiian utility officials must examine more closely.
Stay informed! Receive breaking news blasts directly to your inbox for free. Subscribe here. https://www.oann.com/alerts