HILO, Hawaii – Hawaii Public Utilities Commissioners heard testimony in opposition to the Hawaii Electric light Company’s proposed rate increase during a public hearing on Tuesday evening.
Along with HELCO president Jay Ignacio and Consumer Advocate Dean Nishina, 13 testifiers spoke at the hearing held at the Hilo High School cafeteria. 12 of them said they are against HELCO’s request for a 6.5 percent raise in revenues, which would increase a typical Hawaii Island residential bill (500 kilowatt hours) by $9.31 a month to $171.16.
The proposed rate change is under review by the PUC, and chair Randy Iwase said a contested case hearing is on the horizon for 2017. Henry Curtis of Life of the Land / Puna Pono Alliance was on hand to tell the PUC he will be filing a request to intervene.
HELCO says this is the first proposed 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.”
HELCO is also 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.”
If approved today, HELCO says the new rates would still be lower than a year ago, thanks to lower fuel prices.
But according many of those who spoke, residents cannot afford to pay the increase. Some families already have to choose between paying their electric bill and buying food, they said.
“I ask you to view this as not only a purely financial decision in the normal sense,” Puna state senator Russell Ruderman told the commissioners, “but as a humanitarian decision. The people of our island cannot afford higher electric rates.”