WATCH: First congressional hearing on Maui wildfire to focus on island’s sole electric provider and grid

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Hawaii’s prime public utility officers and the president of Hawaiian Electrical are anticipated to testify Thursday in a congressional listening to concerning the position {the electrical} grid performed in final month’s lethal Maui wildfire.

Members of a U.S. Home Vitality and Commerce subcommittee are anticipated to query the utility officers about how the deadliest U.S. wildfire in additional than a century started — and whether or not {the electrical} grid in Lahaina was protected and correctly maintained.

The fireplace killed at the very least 97 individuals and destroyed greater than 2,000 buildings, principally properties. It first erupted at 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 8, when robust winds appeared to trigger a Hawaiian Electrical powerline to fall, igniting dry brush and grass close to a big subdivision.

Amongst these anticipated to testify are Hawaiian Electrical CEO Shelee Kimura, Hawaii Public Utilities Fee Chair Leodoloff Asuncion Jr. and Hawaii Chief Vitality Officer Mark Glick.

Vitality and Commerce Committee chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers; Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee chair Rep. Morgan Griffith; and Vitality, Local weather and Grid Safety Subcommittee chair Rep. Jeff Duncan — all Republicans — questioned Kimura, Asuncion and Glick about the reason for the hearth in a letter despatched Aug. 30.

The letter included 10 questions concerning the sequence of occasions on the day of the hearth, efforts to mitigate fireplace dangers posed by {the electrical} grid, the hearth investigation and different points. The lawmakers stated {that a} full understanding of how the hearth began is required to make sure it doesn’t occur once more anyplace within the U.S.

“Data can also be coming to gentle about actions taken — or not taken — by implicated entities in hardening and modernizing the electrical grid of Maui,” they wrote within the letter.

In written testimony offered to the committee earlier than the listening to, Kimura targeted on the challenges of offering electrical energy on an remoted island chain, and her emotions of duty and reference to the individuals of Hawaii. She didn’t talk about any fireplace mitigation efforts the utility has taken or present new particulars concerning the occasions surrounding the hearth.

“It was troublesome to depart my island house this week when the catastrophe response efforts are nonetheless ongoing. It seems like leaving your loved ones of their time of want. However I hope that as I perform my kuleana right here, it helps you perform your essential kuleana,” Kimura wrote, utilizing a Hawaiian phrase that she stated loosely interprets to having a deep sense of duty that’s each an obligation and a privilege.

She additionally wrote that operating the utility requires a fancy and consequential stability of pursuing protected, dependable energy at an inexpensive value.

Hawaiian Electrical serves about 70,000 prospects on Maui and practically half 1,000,000 prospects statewide, together with the Division of Protection, which is its largest buyer.

“All of us need to study what occurred on August 8 in order that it by no means occurs once more,” Kimura wrote.

Kimura has acknowledged that Hawaiian Electrical’s downed traces precipitated the preliminary fireplace, however she wrote that the hearth division stated it extinguished that blaze and that the traces had been de-energized for greater than six hours when the hearth flared up in the identical space once more. She referred to as the three p.m. blaze the “Afternoon Fireplace,” implying it was separate from the morning blaze.

“The reason for this Afternoon Fireplace that devastated Lahaina has not been decided,” she wrote. “We’re working tirelessly to determine what occurred, and we’re cooperating totally with federal and state investigators.”

Whether or not the traces have been totally de-energized — that means they weren’t transmitting any electrical voltage — may nonetheless be in query, nonetheless. Not less than one Lahaina resident instructed the Related Press that their energy got here again on round 2 p.m., and Maui Police Chief John Pelletier has stated that his officers have been attempting to maintain individuals from driving over dwell energy traces later that afternoon as residents fled the burning city.

Asuncion Jr., the chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Fee, stated in written testimony that the PUC started tying Hawaiian Electrical’s energy charges partly to its efficiency in 2021, transferring away from a conventional methodology of setting charges based mostly on the price of offering service.

The swap was designed to assist the utility fee to find out whether or not it was functioning as supposed by creating “stringent oversight mechanisms,” and allowed the fee to penalize Hawaiian Electrical for poor reliability. It additionally was supposed to present Hawaiian Electrical extra flexibility to handle funds in the way in which the corporate thinks will finest meet goals, Asuncion wrote.

Asuncion stated the PUC is working with Hawaiian Electrical to establish and implement any wanted working adjustments for high-wind days, and is reviewing the corporate’s strategy as to if energy traces must be constructed above or beneath floor.

“The devastation of the August wildfires ought to by no means occur once more,” Asuncion wrote. “In excited about this precedence, the Fee goals to make sure to the best extent potential that electrical utility operations, infrastructure, and gear in Hawaii are protected, dependable, and resilient to pure disasters akin to wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding.”

Hawaii has solely two electrical utilities: Hawaiian Electrical, which is the only real supplier for Maui, and Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

Residential electrical energy in Maui prices about 43 cents per kilowatt-hour — that’s 3 times the nationwide common, he stated, with the typical month-to-month invoice reaching about $216 in 2022. The utility’s monetary integrity is said to its skill to supply the extent of upkeep and upgrades which are vital for a protected electrical grid, he stated.

Glick, the chief vitality officer for Hawaii’s State Vitality Workplace, additionally submitted written testimony detailing some efforts to establish the chance of wildfires and different pure disasters to the vitality grid, and plans to finally create a microgrid system, the place small parts of {the electrical} grid may very well be shut off for security causes whereas maintaining the remainder of the system operational.

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