Input on undersea cable sought by PUC

The Public Utilities Commission has set a public hearing this month to gather public input on whether a high-voltage, Maui-Oahu undersea power cable would be in the public interest.

The hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 23 in the Pomaikai Elementary School cafeteria in Kahului.

According to an announcement, the commission is specifically seeking input on policy issues and overall objectives of how and where and at what cost an undersea cable may be developed as well as comments on material already submitted to the commission on the matter.

PUC documents on the proposed interisland cable may be found at The docket number is 2013-0169.

Written comments may be mailed to the Public Utilities Commission, 465 S. King St., Room 103, Honolulu 96813 or emailed to Written comments should reference the docket number.

In July, the commission initiated an investigative proceeding to solicit information and establish whether an interisland transmission system would be feasible and in the public interest. Already, comments and interventions have come from Maui County, environmental groups and developers seeking the project of laying a cable 112 miles long and as deep as 2,100 feet.

Cost estimates have ranged from $600 million to $1 billion, depending on the cable’s route and the source of the estimate.

In 2011, Hawaiian Electric Co. issued a request for proposals to acquire 200 megawatts or more of new, renewable energy to be delivered to Oahu. It called for solicitations for an undersea transmission cable to accommodate power generation proposals from the Neighbor Islands.

The commission has taken a neutral position on the matter, pending the outcome of the investigative proceeding.

Last year, Gov. Neil Abercrombie put his administration’s support behind the project, vowing not to let opponents stop island residents from sharing renewable energy resources, seeing a reduction of the state’s dependence on imported oil and benefiting from lower electricity costs.

Critics of the proposal have questioned whether consumers would benefit from lower costs, given that they would pay for the high cost of developing the undersea cable.

Proponents argue that power consumers would benefit from a more stable power system that could take advantage of efficiencies in a larger grid system. Also, the Oahu-to-Maui leg of the undersea cable is seen as the first step to linking both islands to geothermal power on the Big Island.

The commission’s study comes in the wake of earlier proposals for the development of wind farms on Lanai and Molokai to send power in one direction to Oahu. The current proposal calls for power to flow in both directions, linking Maui and Oahu’s power grids. Maui is seen as having greater potential for the development of alternative energy while Oahu has lower-cost, fossil-fuel energy.

Hawaiian Electric Co., its subsidiary Maui Electric Co., the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ Division of Consumer Advocacy and the state’s Energy Resources coordinator are primary parties in the commission’s evaluation of the undersea cable project.

Later, the commission granted intervener status to NextEra Energy Hawai’i LLC, Life of the Land, the Renewable Energy Action Coalition of Hawaii Inc., I Aloha Molokai, Maui County, Hawaii Interisland Cable LLC and First Wind Holdings LLC.

The commission said it is seeking input from knowledgeable stakeholders on:

* The potential costs and benefits of an Oahu-Maui island grid interconnection.

* The best way to proceed with developing such a system.

* The selection process, policy issues and overall objectives on how, where and at what cost an undersea cable system may be developed.

Intervener I Aloha Molokai has called the proposed undersea cable project a “catastrophic development” that threatens the environment, traditional hunting and fishing grounds, property values and community lifestyles. The group has said that such a project should not be “driven by reckless urban consumption.”

Life of the Land has said the project would have major environmental, social and cultural impacts.

* Brian Perry can be reached at