According to a recent investigation by The Wall Street Journal, Hawaiian Electric, the largest power provider in Hawaii, has placed a strong emphasis on transitioning to renewable energy sources to combat climate change. However, this focus has overshadowed the potential wildfire risks associated with its power lines. While wildfires continue to wreak havoc across the United States, including a devastating blaze in Maui, John Podesta, an influential figure in clean energy who advises President Joe Biden, connected the recent fire to climate change during a White House press conference. He used this incident as an opportunity to promote the Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to reduce carbon pollution to prevent worsening disasters.
However, the cause of the Maui fire is still unknown. The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the flames were fueled by invasive grass species and winds worsened by an offshore hurricane. The investigation conducted by The Wall Street Journal has now drawn attention to Hawaiian Electric’s power lines as a potential contributing factor to the wildfire. Prior to the fire’s spread, many of these lines were hanging from telephone poles, some of which were sparking and others were knocked over by strong winds.
The report by The Wall Street Journal has uncovered that while Hawaiian Electric acknowledged the risks of power-line fires in light of previous wildfire incidents in California, the company did not allocate significant resources to address this issue. Instead, their focus was on aligning with state mandates for adopting renewable energy sources.
During this period, Hawaiian Electric was undergoing a transition to renewable energy sources as mandated by the state. Since 2008, Hawaii has been working towards shifting to renewables due to escalating oil prices. In 2015, lawmakers made it a requirement for the state to derive 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045, setting a pioneering standard in the United States.
Although the company had plans to allocate nearly $200 million for wildfire mitigation measures in Maui, these efforts were hindered by bureaucratic challenges. In contrast, only $245,000 was spent on these endeavors. As Hawaiian Electric prioritized climate goals, concerns over wildfire risks took a backseat. This decision is now being scrutinized as the state grapples with the aftermath of the Maui fire.
This investigation serves as a reminder of the complex decisions and trade-offs energy companies face as they navigate the urgent need for climate action while also addressing immediate public safety risks.