Will HELCO Be Shortchanged With New Head Running Maui Electric?

Feb 12, 2019

Credit Denise Emsley | NAVFAC / Flickr

Hawai‘i Electric Light crews have been scrambling to restore power to customers hit by the weekend wind storms. And while that work continues on the ground, there is change at the management level. Earlier this month, the president of Hawaiʻi Electric Light retired. And the new president of Hawaiʻi Island's electric utility is Sharon Suzuki — who is also president of Maui Electric. That's led to questions about how the needs of the state's largest yet least populated island will be handled.

HELCO faces a series of challenges under its new leadership. They include the installation of new transmission lines and poles in lower Puna as residents return now that the Kīlauea lava flow has stopped. There's also the issue of ensuring there is adequate supply with the loss of Puna Geothermal Venture — which provided around twenty percent of the island's power.. So there were questions about whether HELCO was being shortchanged by having its new president also running Maui Electric.

Hawaiian Electric Industries President Alan Oshima says in reality, the new arrangement fits with HEI's long term plans.

"For the last four to five years we've been working on a project called One Company. If you know the history of electricity in Hawaiʻi, the plantations were the primary sources, then they all kind of joined forces. Each county had its own regulated electric company. We can get more economies of scale, better purchasing power, more synergies in terms of fleet, that could bring more value to all of our customers. The One Company is designed to reach those goals but recognizing the unique culture on each island, we're gonna have leaders for each of the different counties. We are also mindful of cost, however. So with Jay's somewhat of a surprise announcement, I wanted to preserve the neighbor island culture and not be so Oʻahu centric. That's why I asked Sharon, who's been leading Maui Electric for seven years, to play a dual role. The neighbor island views are very essential as we become One Company. "   

Oshima says the need for a structural shift became obvious during Hurricane Iselle in 2014. Oʻahu-based crews helping on the Big Island found the HELCO trucks were different from theirs, and they could not drive them. He said the One Company standardization will improve cost and efficiency.