Electricity and gas bills are expected to soar in the coming weeks and months due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an escalating war that’s likely left many dead and injured.

Now in its third week, the bloody conflict has prompted many nations, including the U.S., to impose heavy sanctions against the Kremlin, including cutting off imports of Russian oil.

Hawaiian Electric power plant in Pearl City. 22 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Hawaiian Electric is cautioning consumers about higher bills on the horizon. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

As a result of the turmoil and sanctions, oil prices have surged, with West Texas Intermediate hitting $106 a barrel on Thursday. Utilities that rely on oil, including Hawaiian Electric Co., are passing those costs on to customers.

HECO announced on Thursday that its Oahu customers could see their residential bills jump by 10% in the weeks ahead while Big Island and Maui consumers can expect to pay 20% higher costs.

Those price spikes could be just the beginning. Unless the situation stabilizes in eastern Europe, electricity prices could skyrocket, the Hawaii utility warns.

The sharp escalation in prices is “more abrupt” than what HECO has previously seen, said Joe Viola, HECO’s senior vice president. Given that it’s coming on the heels of surging inflation driven by higher food, housing and gas costs, the steeper electric rates will undoubtedly pinch many consumer wallets. The Consumer Price Index rose by 7.9% last month to a 40-year high.

HECO says it’ll work with customers who have trouble paying their bills.

“We hope this is the peak and that by summer we could see some relief,” said Viola.

The utility suggests steps consumer should consider to reduce their power bills. They range from investing in rooftop solar panels, turning off anything that generates heat like ovens and clothes dryers, and switching to an electric car. Information about rebates and energy-saving tips are available on HECO’s website.

Hawaiian Electric is taking steps to move away from relying on oil to generate electricity, said spokesman Jim Kelly.

Hawaii is especially vulnerable to volatility in oil markets, said Kelly, noting that a barrel of oil cost $18 in April 2020 but has risen sharply since then, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Market volatility is one of main reasons “why we’re pushing to get off oil,” he said.

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