Hawaii energy officials to be questioned in House hearing on Maui wildfires


(WASHINGTON) — A congressional hearing seeks answers about how the deadly Maui wildfires started, could have been prevented or mitigated.

On Aug. 8, a series of deadly wildfires broke out across the Hawaiian island of Maui. At least 97 people were killed and thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed.

“We must come to a complete understanding of how this disaster started to ensure Hawaii and other states are prepared to prevent and stop other deadly wildfires,” the committee stated in a recent letter. “To that end, we seek a fuller understanding of the role, if any, of the electric infrastructure in this tragic event.”

According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders, evidence of a downed power line sparking dry brush on the island indicated that Hawaiian Electric equipment may have contributed to the fires. The committee is also questioning what actions Hawaiian Electric took in hardening and modernizing the Maui electric grid amid growing wildfire threats.

The company is at the center of several lawsuits following the tragedy.

On Thursday, the committee will question three Hawaiian Electric and local officials about the blazes. President & CEO of Hawaiian Electric Shelee Kimura, Hawaii Public Utilities Commission chairman Leodoloff R. Asuncion, Jr., Chairman, and Chief Energy Officer of the Hawai’i State Energy Office Mark B. Glick are expected to be in attendance.

Maui County has filed a lawsuit against the local electric company over the damage.

The lawsuit alleges that Maui Electric Company, Limited, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Hawaiʻi Electric Light Company, Inc., and Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. acted negligently by failing to power down their electrical equipment despite a National Weather Service red flag warning on Aug. 7.

A separate class-action lawsuit was also filed against Hawaiian Electric that alleges that the company “inexcusably kept their power lines energized” despite forecasts of high winds that could topple power lines and potentially ignite a fast-spreading blaze.

Kimura said in a statement that the allegations in the lawsuit from Maui County were “factually and legally irresponsible.” She claimed the company’s investigation showed it responded to both fires promptly.

“Our immediate focus is on supporting emergency response efforts on Maui and restoring power for our customers and communities as quickly as possible. At this early stage, the cause of the fire has not been determined and we will work with the state and county as they conduct their review,” Jim Kelly, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Electric Industries, said about the lawsuit.

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