Hawaiian Electric: More money for grid than for shareholders

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. says it spent twice as much on power grid improvements than it paid in dividends in the winter quarter.

The electric utility (NYSE: HE) Wednesday posted a $34 million first quarter profit, down about $4 million from the same period last year, and said it spent about $60 million during the quarter on upgrades to the power grids on Oahu, the Big Island and in Maui County.

Hawaiian Electric also owns American Savings Bank, whose steady profit contributed to the bottom line for the parent company. The Q1 net worked out to 40 cents per share.

"We're off to a solid start," said CEO Connie Lau in a statement. "We successfully completed a $180 million common stock offering which allows us to fund the largest capital plan in our utilities' history over the next two years, benefitting customers with a stronger and more modern electric grid and lower-cost renewable energy."

Operations and maintenance expenses were higher by about $5 million, but some of that, the company said, was a more even spread of maintenance timing, compared to last year when less maintenance was done in the winter quarter than last ones.

Hawaii's shift to renewable energy has been expensive for Hawaiian Electric since the proliferation of third-party power generation - from wind farms to solar panels on the rooves of homes - has made load-balancing on the power grid more complex and tricky. HEI also faces the dilemma of shifting away from oil-fired power plants while it is still responsible for making up the difference when the new power sources don't supply as much electricity as usual.

"Our companies are committed to reducing Hawaii's dependence on oil and are constantly seeking ways to increase our use of lower-cost renewable energy. In 2012, we reached a record 13.9 percent of energy needs from renewable generation and are on track to exceed the next clean energy goal of 15 percent in 2015," Lau said.

Hawaiian Electric owns Maui Electric  and the Big Island's Hawaii Electric Light Co., but not the electric cooperative on Kauai.

American Savings Bank, a wholly-owned HEI subsidiary, reported $14 million net income for the quarter, down slightly from last year, as increased lending partly offset lower interest rate margins.

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