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Utilities urged to focus on consumers

January 30, 2013
The Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) - Tensions rose during a Hawaii Senate hearing Tuesday as lawmakers and consumer advocates complained about the state's high power costs to officials from the company that owns the state's electric utilities.

Hawaii had the highest utility rates in the nation in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Lawmakers and consumer advocates say utilities run by Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. need to be more committed to consumers and renewable energy.

Hawaiian Electric Industries supplies 95 percent of electricity in the state through its three utilities on Maui, the Big Island and Oahu. Kauai has a separate, nonprofit utilities cooperative.

Sen. Malama Solomon, a Democrat from the Big Island, said she is angry at Hawaiian Electric over the circumstances people face in paying bills.

"(My constituents) have no confidence that you folks are in good effort moving ahead and expeditiously trying to resolve these problems," Solomon told utilities officials during the hearing.

She said some families in her district are burning wood to cook dinner and have $500 utility bills.

Utilities officials said they are committed to decreasing prices for consumers and moving to renewable energy.

Robbie Alm, executive vice president of the Hawaiian Electric Company, said recent cost increases are because of a jump in Asia-Pacific oil prices following the nuclear shutdown in Japan after a deadly tsunami in 2011.

He said the success of geothermal energy on the Big Island is an example of how the corporation's efforts are paying off.

Sen. Rosalyn Baker from Maui said Hawaiian Electric needs to do more to decrease costs for consumers in the short run.

She said it's frustrating to see idle wind turbines in Maui and questioned the company's timeline for implementing renewable energy.

Division of Consumer Advocacy Executive Director Jeffrey Ono said Hawaii residents are shouldering the cost of compensating Hawaiian Electric Industries executives.

He is pushing for a bill to give the Public Utilities Commission more detailed data about electricity contracts. He also wants a measure to finance renewable energy infrastructure.



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