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Bill puts cable tab on HECO customers

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House lawmakers advanced a bill yesterday that would allow Hawaiian Electric Co. to pass along to ratepayers the cost of a proposed undersea cable that would transmit electricity to Oahu from wind turbines on Lanai and Molokai.

Although wind-power plans are still in the early planning stages and face significant community opposition, proponents say for the entire proj­ect to move forward, there needs to be early action on setting up a regulatory framework for the eventual development and financing of the undersea cable.

The bill (SB 367) authorizes the Public Utilities Commission to create the surcharge HECO would collect.

The cost of the undersea cable has been estimated at between $500 million and $1 billion, although a state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism official said it is too early to put a firm price tag on it.

The wind turbines, which HECO says could deliver a combined 400 megawatts of electricity to Oahu, are a major component of the state’s plan to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The bill was approved during a joint meeting of the Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection and the Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce. Voting against the bill were Reps. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kane­ohe Bay) and Gil Riviere (R, Schofield-Kahuku).

More than 30 people submitted testimony via email opposing the bill, while two people testified against the measure in person.

Supporting the bill at the hearing were representatives from DBEDT and HECO.

Henry Curtis, director of the environmental group Life of the Land, told lawmakers his organization opposed the bill for several reasons, including the fact that it allows HECO to recover costs for the improvements it would need to make to its grid even if the wind proj­ect never materializes.

"That just seems really weird, especially when the utility wants the ratepayers to take all the risk," Curtis told lawmakers.

"They want to take not 1 percent of the risk for themselves."

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