Critics say HECO conservation calls point to bigger problems - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Critics say HECO conservation calls point to bigger problems

Ed Wagner Ed Wagner
Henry Curtis Henry Curtis
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Hawaiian Electric Co. usually asks customers to conserve energy when one of its power plants has a problem. But on Thursday, it asked them to reduce usage even though all of its power plants were operating as planned.

Critics say that that raises questions whether the utility has enough capacity to meet Hawaii's growing demand. And some ratepayers are demanding more reliability.  "Consumers should be up in arms," said Mililani resident Ed Wagner, one of several local resident taking part in a class-action lawsuit against HECO's utility monopoly.  "I don't think Hawaiian Electric has done nearly enough because its focus is money for stockholders and not putting money into the grid and into technology to improve reliability of services.

On Thursday, Hawaiian Electric urged customers to conserve electricity to avoid power outages. At the time, HECO's main power plants -- Kahe, Waiau and Campbell Industrial Park -- as well as its independent power producers were operating normally.  HECO cited the extremely humid weather, which drove up air conditioning use, and the light winds, which sharply cut production from local wind farms. On Wednesday, wind farms on Oahu's North Shore were producing about 1 megawatt of electricity, compared to the usual 40 megawatts. 

The company has since lifted its call for conservation.

"Demand for electricity reached a six-year high … and that's why, out of an abundance of caution, we asked customers to conserve," the company said.

But Wagner believes the problem is caused by more by a shortage of supply, not peaking demand. He said that the company hasn't invested enough in its infrastructure.  The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission recently rejected three, utility-scale solar projects due to costs. The solar farms would have provided enough electricity for thousands of homes.  Wagner also faulted HECO and its counterparts of not promoting more energy conservation among businesses and residences.  "In my street, we've had a total of 13 power failures over a period of 12 months," he said.

Wagner says he hopes the state Public Utilities investigates these shortages ... as part of its review of Hawaiian Electric's merger with NextEra Energy.

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