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South Maui Smart Grid, Maui Electric Power Line Proposal

December 1, 2011
Rep. George Fontaine (R HD-11), Kihei, Wailea, Makena , The Maui Weekly

South Maui Smart Grid

South Maui is on the cutting edge of worldwide smart grid technology with two projects currently underway in our district. One project is a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. The other project is being rolled out with a group of Japanese energy companies that specialize in smart grid technology.

What is a smart grid? According to the Hawai'i State Energy Office, a smart grid is "two-way communications between different parts of the electric power system."

What most people don't understand is that the traditional power grid technology is not very efficient. Power companies can only estimate how much demand there will be in the future based on past usage.

In contrast, smart grid technology will use WiFi technology to establish two-way communications between the end user and the power company. This will allow almost immediate transfer of consumption data to the power company in order to more efficiently distribute power throughout the system.

Recently, we taped a TV program called "The Fontaine Factor," which is being shown on Akaku: Maui Community Television and 'Olelo Community Media on O'ahu. The program discusses the two Maui smart grid projects and how citizens in Maui Meadows in Kihei can participate.

The program features Christian Whitney from the Hawai'i State Energy Office and Dr. James "Jay" Griffin, assistant specialist at the Hawai'i Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawai'i.

Maui Meadows residents who are interested in participating in the Maui Smart Grid need to contact the Hawai'i State Energy office before the end of December at (808) 587-3807.

Maui Electric Company's New Power Line Proposal

About two months ago, Maui Electric Company (MECO) made a presentation to the Kihei Community Association about providing additional power capacity to South Maui. The company's plan was to deliver the additional power to a new power substation on Pi'ilani Highway near the intersection of Ke Ali'i Alanui Road through 69kv lines mounted on 65-foot metal poles.

Although alternative plans had been considered, such as moving the lines inland or putting the lines underground, MECO recommended that lines be placed on the large metal poles along Pi'ilani Highway-the least expensive way to deliver power to the ratepayers. But when the community and I heard about this, we were outraged.

Following that meeting, I met with MECO President Ed Reinhart, where I expressed the great concerns the Kihei community has about placing power lines along Pi'ilani Highway. I explained to him that if the cost of putting lines underground was a concern ($20 million dollars for the poles versus $80 million to put them underground), then MECO should consider a route inland above any planned development in South Maui. This would also have the advantage of placing the lines closer to planned photovoltaic farms.

Once MECO has developed a new plan, it will be presented to the Kihei community prior to submittal to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). This will be an important meeting to attend in the coming months.

The soonest any proposal will be considered by the PUC will be December 2012.

If you need to contact me with any issues or concerns regarding South Maui, please call my office at (808) 586-8525 or email

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