Public a no-show at rate hike hearing: HELCO seeks 3.4% increase

The state Public Utilities Commission, the state consumer advocate and representatives from Hawaii Electric Light Co. were out in force Friday evening for a public hearing on a proposed rate hike.

Everyone was at the public hearing, in fact, except for one key component — the public.

The no-shows in Hilo followed a Thursday evening public hearing in Kona when just three members of the public weighed in. But PUC Chairman James Griffin said the public still has plenty of time to comment on HELCO’s proposal.

“We’re very much in the beginning still,” Griffin said.

HELCO is seeking a 3.4 percent increase in rates, in addition to other changes to its billing structure. The utility has also asked to raise its minimum deposit to $50 and to lower the interest rate it pays on deposits from 6 percent to 2 percent.

HELCO estimates the rate hike will generate $13.4 million in additional revenue. It would cost a typical residential customer using 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity another $8.21 per month.

Keeping trees and other vegetation away from powerlines is a major thrust of the new spending, HELCO Hawaii Island Manager Kevin Waltjen said. He said outages have been cut in half since a few years ago, once the utility ramped up its vegetation control measures.

The increase would also be used to fund grid modernization efforts, repairs to facilities damaged by the Kilauea eruption and increasing operation at power plants due to the loss of Puna Geothermal Venture, repairing and repowering the Waiau hydroelectric plant, enhancing cybersecurity and equipment upgrades or repairs.

“Maintaining this system takes investment and continued improvements,” Waltjen said.

Consumer Advocate Dean Nishina said his office is asking HELCO to justify in detail aspects of its rate request.

“The company is requesting a number of changes and the consumer advocate will take a detailed look at all the requests,” Nishina said.

Written statements may be mailed to: Public Utilities Commission, 465 South King St., Room No. 103 Honolulu, HI 96813 or email to [email protected] All written statements should reference Docket No. 2018-0368.

The docket can be viewed and filings downloaded by entering the docket number in the search box at https://dms.puc.hawaii.gov/dms/ .

As of Saturday, comments from only one member of the public had been posted on the docket.

“Rates are already one of the highest in the nation,” said Kim Ortman of Keaau in an April 10 comment. “No to 3.4 percent hike.”