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Hawaii Electric Bills to Increase – Company Cites Albizia Trees and System Upgrades for Increase

Company cites costs of albizia clearing, system upgrades

Hawaii Electric Light proposed the first increase of base rates in nearly six years to help pay for operating costs, including expanded vegetation management focusing on albizia tree removal, as well as system upgrades to increase reliability, improve customer service and integrate more renewable energy.

The request is for a 6.5 percent increase in revenues, or $19.3 million.

Rate reviews are required by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) every three years.

If approved, a typical residential bill for 500 kilowatt hours on Hawaii Island would increase by $9.31 a month to $171.16. The proposed rate change will be reviewed by regulators and would likely not take effect until the summer of 2017 at the earliest.

Thanks to lower fuel prices, bills reflecting the new rates, if approved today, would still be lower than a year ago.

In 2013, with PUC approval, Hawaii Electric Light withdrew its request to increase base rates, leaving in place the same base rates established in 2010.

As part of the current review, Hawaii Electric Light is proposing benchmarks to measure its performance in key areas, such as customer service, reliability and communication for the rooftop solar interconnection process and to link certain revenues to that performance.

$14M spent clearing albizia since 2014

Among the increased operating costs driving the rate change is an extensive vegetation management and tree removal initiative.

albizia

The threat from invasive albizia trees toppling in high winds became clear after Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014 and led the company to triple its annual spending on vegetation management. Since 2014, Hawaii Electric Light has spent $14 million on tree trimming and removal, concentrating on areas where falling albizias threaten utility equipment and highways.

The tree removal program, which is continuing, reduced the impacts of the recent tropical storms Darby and Madeline on roads and power lines, resulting in fewer outages and faster power restoration.

Investments in customer service pay off

Hawaii Electric Light has also spent more than $14 million over the past six years improving customer service systems, developing technical solutions to integrate more private rooftop solar, replacing and upgrading equipment to improve efficiency and reliability and developing detailed plans to achieve the state’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy. The company has absorbed a large portion of these increased costs in the years between rate cases without passing them on to customers.

Investments in more customer service staffing and new technology have resulted in significantly improved service, including reduced call-waiting times. The percentage of customer calls answered within 30 seconds went from 33 percent in 2010 to 93 percent in 2015. And in surveys of customers who called in to stop, start or change electric service in 2015, 94 percent said they were satisfied with the experience.

Renewable energy use grows to 49%, highest in state

Hawaii Electric Light has increased its use of renewable energy from 35 percent in 2010 to 49 percent today, using wind, hydroelectricity, solar and geothermal to replace oil imported to generate electricity. The company reduced its use of oil by 13 percent over the same period. Part of the proposed rate adjustment will help pay for continued improvements to the power grid to help integrate even more renewable resources while improving reliability.

By the end of 2016, Hawaii Electric Light will have made more than $290 million in capital investments over the past six years, including replacing and upgrading transmission lines in West Hawaii; modernizing generation equipment to increase efficiency; increasing grid capacity and system reliability; and adding or replacing lines and transformers as well as more than 4,500 poles for new and expanded service.

Hawaii Electric Light has “decoupled” rates – a regulatory model that periodically adjusts rates to remove the company’s need to increase sales to recover a level of PUC-approved costs for providing service to all customers. The company is required to submit full rate cases every three years for an updated review by the PUC of the current costs of service.

Commentary – A Giant Tree Almost Killed Me Last Night on HWY 132

I received the following commentary:

Dear Damon,

I really had a close call last night.

Tree Smash

Was driving down on my way home in Kapoho through the tree tunnel by Lava Tree state park. I heard a thunderous crack and saw for a split second a giant branch on it way down directly in front of me…not sure if I hit it first or it hit the road first but I hit it hard.

Tree Smash 2

Airbags went off and smoke filled the cabin…when I came to I was choking from the airbag smoke I got out from the car, dazed. The occupants from the car behind me asked if I was OK and said that they saw the tree come down and I was lucky to be alive…Police said I was lucky to be alive as well.

The force was enough to crack the block on the engine and spray oil and engine parts on the road.

Tree Smash 3I drive through that tree tunnel of old junk albizias every day… So do my loved ones and friends. Almost every local resident has a story of branches of all sizes down in the road and near misses.

I ask why does the county allow such a persistent and inevitable threat to exist? All one has to do is look up at the mass of giant tangled limbs and it not hard to see the gravity of the situation.

Who’s next? Will they be lucky like me? Only sore, bruised and shaken or will they be more gravely injured? 

I am a farmer by trade and don’t think I will be picking up any baskets of ginger for a while.

I will be writing letters to the County of Hawaii public works, road maintenance division as well as our council members asking the same questions above.

Tree Smash 4

In a perfect world my sincere story would be enough to get them moving to take care of this obvious problem, however If you would like to share my story on your blog it may help shine a light on this issue.

Thank you kindly,

Daniel Kelly

State and County Team-Up to Tackle Hazardous Albizia Trees

The State’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and the County of Hawai’i’s Department of Public Works are teaming up February 26-28 to remove invasive albizia trees along Upper Puna Road.

Albizia

State and County crews are working in coordination with the Big Island Invasive Species Committee’s (BIISC) Albizia Demonstration Project in Keau’ohana State Forest Reserve and Black Sands Subdivision, of lower Puna. Albizia trees within 100 ft. of the road, endangering motorists, will be cut down, then chipped and returned to the forest or, for larger trees, removed. BIISC will follow-up by applying herbicide to stumps and nonhazardous trees using methods developed with the University of Hawai’i extension program and the US Forest Service.

By teaming up, crews will be able to cover both County and State right-of-ways and synchronize their efforts. “This project demonstrates how all stakeholders, government, private sector, and residents, can work together to manage the albizia problem in more cost effective ways,” said BIISC Manager Springer Kaye.

The State and County tree work will be done from 8:00am-2:00pm, starting from the intersection of Upper Puna Road and Highway 130, extending 0.3 miles along Upper Puna Road. Motorists are advised to expect intermittent delays on Upper Puna Road during these times and to take the alternate route of One`Ele`Ele Road to access Black Sands Subdivision.

According to Ecologist Flint Hughes, with the U.S. Forest Service, ”Albizia, or Falcataria moluccana, is a statewide ecological and public safety problem. Albizia’s rapid and pervasive growth destroys native forests by shading out native plants and improving conditions other invasive flora, such as strawberry guava. On top of that, the tree’s brittle branches and shallow roots easily break in wind or rain, then fall on homes, roads, and power lines.”

The 500-acre Albizia Demonstration Project area in Puna includes trees overhanging homes and roads, as well as in native lowland forest. Kaye explains “Stakeholders identified this area of Puna as a case study to showcase the wide range of issues in albizia control, develop best management practices, and empower communities to limit the spread of these menacing trees in their own neighborhoods.”

Since December, BIISC has held three Community Training Workshops, where the public learned how to safely and effectively use herbicide to kill albizia trees not threatening infrastructure. The next Community Training Workshops will be held during the Hawai’i Invasive Species Awareness Week, from 9:00am-2:00pm, at various locations in East Hawai’i.

Albizia Clean-ups

For more information on Community Training Workshops, please contact BIISC at 933-3340.

 

High Winds in Pahoa Causing Havoc… Knocks Tree Across State Route 132

We have been having a pretty windy day here in Pahoa.

Councilman Fred Blas sign blown over

About a half hour ago I got the following Nixle report:

Route 130 (Pahoa to Kapoho Road) completely blocked by downed tree near 4mm between Lava Tree Park and “Four Corners” intersection.

Well I know that Highway 130 doesn’t even go close to this area and so I traversed down the Pahoa – Kapoho road to investigate things and sure enough… it was Route 132 and not Highway 130.

Emergency Crews on the scene

Traffic was getting turned around and I then received the following message:

Route 130 (Keaau to Pahoa Hwy) low hanging utility wire Makuu Farmers market. Road passable for automobiles, trucks waiting HELCO on scene

Which I guess explains the error in the first message.

A tree service clears the road and the remaining dangerous branches

As I was turning around… I got the following message:

Avoid Route 132 between Lava Tree Park and Kapoho, utilize Pohoiki Rd, multiple trees and power lines falling across roadway on Route 132.

It looked like it was just about cleaned up when I was leaving… but I would still avoid the area until this wind stops. These Albizia trees are just like toothpicks in this wind.

Almost through cleaning them up!