Over 80 people turned out for a Hawai'i Public Utilities Commission (PUC) meeting at Maui Waena Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 18, to oppose any rate increase by Maui Electric Company (MECO) that would be used to pay for the installation of new power poles in Kihei.
Members of the Kihei Community Association (KCA) helped to fill the house and provide testimony against the proposal by MECO to install 70-foot poles as part of efforts by the company to meet projected power requirements in South Maui.
KCA is strongly opposed to the MECO plan. KCA President Jon Miller testified that the MECO plan "seems absolutely absurd. Every time we have asked these lines to be put underground, we are told the PUC will not approve anything that is not the least expensive option."
Over 80 people attended the Oct. 18 meeting of the Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission at the Maui Waena Elementary School. The Kihei Community Association showed up in full force to testify against MECO’s proposed plan to place 70-foot power poles in Kihei.
Miller said, we are asking "the PUC to look at how these projects impact the community holistically. They are going to impact our community, and it will not be positive and will have a negative impact on long-term health of community."
The power poles issue was not formally on the PUC docket. The meetings on Maui, Lana'i and Moloka'i are meant to gather public input on an across-the-board-rate increase MECO proposed in its various customer classes. The rate increase of approximately 6.7 percent over revenues at current effective rates would be in addition to a MECO proposal to establish a purchase power adjustment surcharge, among other items.
However, the KCA, seeing an opportunity to get their views before a body not known for meeting frequently on Maui, decided to move their association's monthly meeting to the PUC hearing and make their case against the MECO power poles.
No one testified in favor of the MECO proposal to place power poles along Pi'ilani Highway, which MECO President Ed Reinhardt has reportedly said is under reconsideration and subject to further discussion with the KCA and others.
Speaking to the commissioners, Reinhardt thanked all of MECO's customers. He noted that he understands we are in tough economic times and that MECO is working to do their best job for the consumers.
Reinhardt also restated MECO's support for Hawai'i's renewable energy goals and the utility's commitment to clean renewable energy, including solar and wind energy.
State Consumer Advocate Jeff Ono testified that he has not yet decided to support or question MECO's rate increase proposal.
Michele Duberstein was applauded by the audience when he told the commission, "This is the wrong time to grant any rate change before the Maui Island Plan is adopted by the County Council."
"Why does MECO not engage in conservation efforts?" Duberstein asked. "So far, MECO has done nothing, nada, zippo. MECO does not seem committed to alternative energy," he added.
Jonathon Starr, who identified himself as a major commercial property owner in Wailuku and a bee farmer in Kipahulu, called the poles "Iron Monsters."
Starr, a former member and chair of the Maui Planning Commission, said, "It always surprised us (the Planning Commission) that when it came to power lines, we would never get to approve them like we did for other major projects. Power lines are always exempted on a county level. The community has never had the opportunity to review them."
Kal Kobayashi, a member of Mayor Alan Arakawa's staff, read a letter from the mayor to the PUC, in which the Mayor wrote: "We disagree with the [MECO] consultant's analysis of community acceptance of the plan to build a new fuel-fired internal combustion power plant on Maui, while never considering solar on a large scale as an alternative."
In his testimony, Chris Hart of Chris Hart and Partners, a landscape architecture and planning firm in Wailuku, pointed to a decision by then-Mayor Elmer Cravalho, who worked with MECO engineers to avoid the placement of 69 power poles along Haleakala Highway. Instead, they were placed along the mountaintop where they are less visible.
Maui Planning Director Will Spence was the final speaker of the evening. He was a last minute addition to the speaker's list and restated the administration's position on the "visual impact of power poles not just in Kihei, but also across the island."
In spite of that concern, Spence did make it clear that "We are willing to work with MECO for a solution."
That was the last word of the evening, but it may have been the first word in a dialogue that everyone-MECO, KCA, PUC and the community at-large-seems to want to have. And the sooner the better for all concerned.
For more information, contact Ono at (808) 586-2800; PUC Docket Number 2011-0092.