Hawaii Regulators and Utility Company Knew of Fire Hazards, Yet Failed to Act


A Hawaii electric utility company is facing scrutiny after one of the most devastating wildfires in American history caused more than 100 fatalities on the island of Maui.

Hawaiian Electric discussed wildfire mitigation efforts after an unusually severe fire season in 2019, but instead opted to focus its efforts on a government-mandated shift to renewable energy, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The company has made little progress in adopting fire prevention measures practiced in California — a state which has experienced devastating fires caused by power lines.

The cause of the costly fires on Maui hasn’t been officially determined, but some evidence suggests that Hawaiian Electric power lines were the source of the blazes.

Video filmed at the beginning of the fires shows power lines blown to the ground by high winds.


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A class-action lawsuit filed last week against Hawaiian Electric — one of several that have been filed so far — alleges that the utility failed to deactivate endangered power lines in the midst of high winds from Hurricane Dora, creating the conditions for the fires, Axios reported.

Should the utility companies be investigated for their alleged negligence?

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The lawsuit alleges another contributor to the disaster was a failure to properly inspect and maintain the utility infrastructure.

Hawaiian Electric admitted that it needed to do more to counteract the threat of wildfires after a costly 2019 wildfire season in Maui, according to the Journal.

However, the Journal reported, the publicly traded company spent only $245,000 on Maui wildfire mitigation — a pittance for a company with a market cap of roughly $1.6 billion.


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Hawaiian Electric instead made producing renewable energy its priority in the years following the 2019 wildfires.

“Looking back with hindsight, the business opportunities were on the generation side, and the utility was going out for bid with all these big renewable-energy projects,” consultant Doug McLeod, a former Maui county energy commissioner, told the Journal.

“But in retrospect, it seems clear, we weren’t as focused on these fire risks as we should have been.”

Invasive forms of vegetation have also been identified as fire risks.

Another former utility commissioner is admitting the state should have done more to compel Hawaiian Electric to focus on fire mitigation.

“Because it wasn’t an emergency, it didn’t receive the attention that it needed,” Jennifer Potter told the Journal.

She called the lack of focus on fire danger a “missed opportunity.”

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