An intensive year-long community planning process to assist the electric utilities in coming up with five-year energy plans for Oahu, the Big Island and Maui County needs more time, some members of the planning committee say.

They say that after working months analyzing complicated clean energy scenarios and strategies to reduce electricity rates, Hawaiian Electric Co. hasn’t given them a chance to review or comment on the final plans, which must be submitted to Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission by June 28.

“The point is, that this is a process where the advisory group is supposed to be giving meaningful input and for various reasons that has completely gone out the window,” said Isaac Moriwake, an attorney at Honolulu-based Earthjustice.

Moriwake, along with nine other members of the 68-member advisory group, sent a letter to PUC Chair Hermina Morita this week asking that HECO’s deadline for submitting its energy plans be extended by four months to make sure that members have time to provide feedback.

HECO spokeswoman Lynne Unemori said that the utility will follow the guidance of the PUC. A prior request to extend the deadline was rejected by commissioners. And Unemori noted that Morita had already informed the advisory group that it will be given the opportunity to provide input after June 28.

But Moriwake and his faction worry that won’t be enough and meaningful input will be difficult.

“Upon the June 28 filing, the process will necessarily shift from a more collaborative posture, to the more adversarial procedural posture dictated by commission rules,” the group wrote.

Representatives from Blue Planet Foundation, the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, I Aloha Molokai, The Kohala Center, Life of the Land and Ulupono Initiative also signed the letter to the PUC.

The full advisory group, which was put in place by state regulators, also included government officials, community advocates and business leaders. It’s not clear why others didn’t sign the letter.

HECO officials met with the advisory group on May 30 to review their energy plans. But Moriwake and others say that the presentation — which amounted to about 50 slides — was inadequate and provided little detail about the utility’s plans.

“We are guessing as to what is going to be in there,” said advisory group member, Warren Bollmeier.

They say the presentation was similar to what HECO provided at a meeting held on Oahu on Wednesday, convened to allow the community to ask questions and comment on the final draft plan.

HECO’s outline was contained on a single page and included an overview of the company’s intentions to lower customer bills and convert to renewable energy.

“That’s not an action plan,” said Bollmeier. “That’s not even an outline. All they gave you here is the goals.”

HECO has held similar meetings on the Big Island and Maui and will be giving presentations on Molokai and Lanai later this month.

Members of the advisory group say the process has been cumbersome from the start. With an unwieldy 68 people, the group has had to dive into complicated technical and financial information related to running an electric utility and incorporating various renewable energy sources into the electric grids.
 
Still, members of the advisory group hoped that this planning process would go much better than in the past, when after months of meetings, long-term energy plans would sit with the PUC and never be implemented. The PUC made changes to the process this time around, including appointing an independent overseer to help guide the process.

This was also the first energy-planning process since the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative was signed in 2008. The initiative requires the electric utility to switch to 40 percent renewable energy and reduce electricity consumption by 30 percent by 2030.

“It was just a lot of accumulated expectations,” said Moriwake. “And so far we are headed for a colossal disappointment.”

“The utilities have been working hard and they have a big job to do, but at the end of the day the advisory group and the public don’t have a real opportunity to review the analysis.”


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