Hawaii Electric Light Asks for $19M Increase, Its First in Six Years

Hawaii Electric Light, which serves 84,000 customers on the Big Island in the Aloha State – has reopened the docket (Docket No. 2015-0170) for its first increase of base rates in nearly six years, the company announced on September 19.

The request is for a 6.5 percent increase in revenues, or $19.3 million. Rate reviews are required by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) every three years.

The infusion of money is anticipated to help pay for operating costs, including expanded vegetation management; as well as to cover system upgrades to increase reliability, improve customer service and integrate more renewable energy.

If approved, a typical residential bill for 500 kilowatt hours (kWh) on the Big 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 next summer at the earliest.

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

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, the utility 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.

Among the increased operating costs driving the rate change is an extensive vegetation management and tree removal initiative. 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 claims to have spent $14 million on tree trimming and removal, concentrating on areas where falling albizias threaten utility equipment and highways.

The utility also said it had 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,” Hawaii Electric Light said, in justifying the proposal.


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