CV NEWS FEED // New evidence shows that faulty power lines built by the company with a near-monopoly on Hawaii’s electricity may have played a role in causing the wildfires that devastated the state this month.
Evidence suggests the power giant knew about their risky infrastructure and the dangerously dry Maui vegetation for several years. Yet, they did little-to-nothing to fix it and instead shifted their focus to “green” energy.
At the time of the disaster, which claimed at least 110 lives and caused billions of dollars in property damage, Hawaiian Electric provided power to 95% of Hawaiians. The energy conglomerate was founded in 1891, when Hawaii was still an independent kingdom. It is the parent company of American Savings Bank, the third-largest banking institution in the state.
Journalist and environmentalist Michael Shellenberger on Thursday wrote “Many say climate change caused the deadly fires in Hawaii but it didn’t.”
“What caused the fires was Hawaiian Electric’s failure to clear flammable grasses from around electric wires because its focus, and ratepayer money, was going to renewables,” he reported.
Shellenberger has been a longtime critic of so-called “green” energy and the theory that several recent American wildfires have been connected to “climate change.”
Last week, Democratic Hawaii Gov. Josh Green blamed the tragic blaze on “global warming,” which he added is “very real for us and everywhere.” National Democratic leaders echoed his talking points, with some even calling on President Joe Biden to declare a “climate emergency.”
However, even before the revelations about Hawaiian Electric hit the news cycle, many environmental experts refuted the idea that “global warming” or “climate change” caused the fires.
Hawaii professor Clay Trauernicht, a noted fire ecology specialist, said that blaming the disaster on “weather and climate is misleading. Hawai’i’s fire problem is due to the vast areas of unmanaged, nonnative grasslands from decades of declining agriculture.”
Stanford Professor Peter Vitousek agreed, saying that “fire-prone grasses have invaded drier Hawaiian ecosystems and brought larger, more intense fires.”
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Thursday that
The growing risk of wildfire on Maui had been known for years. The number of acres burned on the island soared to 39,000 in 2019, from 150 in 1999, according to data compiled by the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, a nonprofit that works with government agencies and the public.
Several reports released by the group and others in recent years have said the danger is increasing, in part, because of invasive plants that have overtaken former sugar and pineapple plantations. Roughly one-quarter of state land in Hawaii is now covered by invasive grasses and shrubs, according to a study by the University of Hawaii and think tank East-West Center.
WSJ also noted that “mounting evidence suggests” Hawaiian Electric’s “equipment was involved.”
“One video taken by a resident shows a downed power line igniting dry grass along a road near Lahaina,” WSJ reported:
A firm that monitors grid sensors reported dozens of electrical disruptions in the hours before the fire began, including one that coincided in time with video footage of a flash of light from power lines.
Hawaiian Electric knew there was a substantial risk of a deadly wildfire in the state but made the conscious choice to focus on “renewable-energy projects” as opposed to meaningful prevention.
According to WSJ, the controversial decision was largely due to Hawaii’s state government, which in 2015 “passed legislation mandating that the state derive 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045, the first such requirement in the U.S.”
Again from WSJ:
During the 2019 wildfire season, one of the worst Maui had ever seen, Hawaiian Electric concluded that it needed to do far more to prevent its power lines from emitting sparks.
The utility examined California’s plans to reduce fires ignited by power lines, started flying drones over its territory and vowed to take steps to protect its equipment and its customers from the threat of fire.
Nearly four years later, the company has completed little such work. Between 2019 and 2022, it invested less than $245,000 on wildfire-specific projects on the island, regulatory filings show. It didn’t seek state approval to raise rates to pay for broad wildfire-safety improvements until 2022, and has yet to receive it.
Shellenberger noted that “the same thing happened in California,” his home state.
Over the past few years, Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom “pushed the [state’s] utilities to spend billions on renewables and cut the budget for forest fire prevention,” Shellenberger wrote. “The result was more forest fires. When they were caught, they blamed climate change.”
Some victims of the massive fire are suing Hawaiian Electric. Their complaint alleges that the “Defendants’ negligent and reckless operation of its overhead electrical infrastructure necessarily caused the Lahaina Fire, which destroyed real and personal property belonging to Plaintiffs.”
As Forbes summarized:
The lawsuit, which names a Lahaina family as plaintiffs, scrutinized Hawaiian Electric’s preventive practices, saying it failed to clear vegetation, maintain its equipment and de-energize its power lines in a timely manner.
The lawsuit said that despite possessing general knowledge of wildfires and inclement weather warnings, the power utility company “did nothing.”
In the last few days, the embattled company’s stock tumbled to a 13-year low, more than 73% down this year alone.
According to OpenSecrets, Hawaiian Electric Industries’ affiliates contributed over $47,000 to candidates and political action committees during the 2022 election cycle.
Most of the money went to left-wing Democrats such as Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-HI, and now-Rep. Jill Tokuda, D-HI, both of whom strongly favor “green” energy policies.