WSJ: Hawaiian Electric Focused on Climate Change, Neglected Wildfire Risk

Hawaii Maui power lines (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press, file)
Rick Bowmer / Associated Press, file

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Hawaiian Electric, the biggest power supplier in the state, focused on shifting to renewable energy sources to combat climate change, rather than spending money to address fire risk around its power lines.

Earlier that day, John Podesta, a left-wing stalwart who advises President Joe Biden on clean energy, took to the White House podium to blame climate change for the wildfire in Maui, which destroyed Lahaina and has likely killed hundreds of people.

“To stop these disasters from getting even worse, we have to cut the carbon pollution that is driving the climate crisis, and that’s what the Inflation Reduction Act is all about,” Podesta said, using the disaster to promote Biden’s law on its first anniversary.

John Podesta (Sarah Silbiger / Bloomberg via Getty)

John Podesta, senior advisor to the President for clean energy innovation, speaks during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023. President Biden has been building up to the one-year mark of his Inflation Reduction Act, a massive package that included billions of dollars for climate and sweeping tax and health-care measures, with events around the country, culminating in a celebration at the White House today. Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But a cause of the fire is still unknown, and the San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the fire was fueled by alien, invasive grass species that have come to dominate the local landscape, and which burned quickly in winds fed by an offshore hurricane.

Hawaii fire (Gonzalo Marroquin / Getty)

KAANAPALI, HAWAII – AUGUST 08: Wildfires burn over the town of Lahaina as seen in the neighboring Kaanapali Alii resort, on August 08, 2023 in Kaanapali, Maui, Hawaii (Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images)

The Journal reported that suspicion is rapidly focusing on Hawaiian Electric’s power lines, which are suspended from telephone poles, many of which were downed in the wind, and some of which were seen sparking in the hours before the wildfire spread.

Moreover, the Journal noted that Hawaiian Electric had taken note of similar risks in California’s recent wildfires, but had yet to devote significant resources to addressing the problem. Instead, it focused on complying with state “green” energy mandates:

Since [California power company Pacific Gas and Electric]’s bankruptcy, Hawaiian Electric has made reference in regulatory filings to the risks of power-line fires, but it waited years to take significant action, documents and interviews show. During that period, the company was undertaking a state-mandated shift to renewable energy.

In filings over the next two years with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, which is tasked with approving utility projects and spending, the company made only passing reference to wildfire mitigation.

Former regulators and energy company officials said the utility was focused at that time on procuring renewable energy. Hawaii has been on a push to convert to renewables since 2008, when a run-up in oil prices sent electrical rates at Hawaiian Electric—which relied on petroleum imports for 80% of its energy supply—through the roof. In 2015, lawmakers passed legislation mandating that the state derive 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045, the first such requirement in the U.S.

The company had plans to spend nearly $200 million on wildfire mitigation measures on Maui, the Journal reported, but instead had spent less than $245,000. The wildfire plan was stalled by bureaucracy; in the interim, the company focused on climate goals.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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