Many residents of Kapilina Beach Homes in Ewa Beach were recently shocked to receive huge electrical bills — some $1,000 or more — that are significantly higher than earlier, sizzling summer power costs.
The residents of more than 1,400 former Navy homes just west of Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam remain concerned and confused over the billing just as the Navy — which still oversees the antiquated and outage- prone Kapilina power system — put in place an electricity rate hike of its own which started as of Tuesday.
“Some families’ bills were $1,000 plus, from being $500 normally,” Jade Gabbard wrote on a Facebook page reserved for Kapilina residents. “Some people cannot afford to eat or feed their animals.”
“Our light bills are just through the roof. It’s just me and my husband in this home,” Susan Ferrera said in an interview. The couple had been paying no more than $400 generally, but their bill for mid-July to mid-August was $608, she said.
State Sen. Kurt Fevella, a lifelong Ewa Beach resident, said 150 to 200 Kapilina residents showed up at a town hall meeting Monday to discuss their sky-high electricity bills.
The matter, Fevella said, is a complete mess.
A Kapilina representative attended the meeting. Earlier in the day she conducted a test on some of the elevated bills and related that “everything is correctly being billed,” Fevella said.
“So if they are correctly billed, how can you go from $300 to $1,000? That doesn’t jibe,” the legislator said. “I can see $300 (that) then went to $400, but not $1,000.”
Kapilina put out a notice Monday on the resident Facebook page saying that “many residents have expressed concerns to us about larger-than-usual utility bills that were reported on the most recent billing statements.
“We understand your frustrations. For the time being, we are suspending billing payments while we investigate if there were any abnormalities,” the housing manager said.
Kapilina Beach Homes did not respond to requests for comment from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Fevella said he wants an audit or some other type of research into the Kapilina billing “because I’ve never heard of anything like that in any other subdivision in my life.”
That inquiry will likely circle back to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii, which has oversight for the old power grid that’s still in place at Kapilina. The community started life as 1960s Navy housing and more recently has been operated by a succession of property managers.
The Navy command recently announced that — as of Tuesday — the Department of the Navy was implementing budget reforms resulting in higher electrical costs for residents of public-private venture housing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam.
The fiscal 2019 rate was 19 cents per kilowatt hour. The fiscal 2020 rate is 32 cents — a 68% increase, the Navy said. Approximately 4,500 Navy homes and 2,500 Air Force homes are affected, but energy conservation efforts drive down costs.
Naval facilities Hawaii, known as NAVFAC, said it had been providing electricity below cost for three years under a revolving fund intended to operate on a break-even basis over time.
“For the last three years, NAVFAC Hawaii has operated below cost to offset gains that were made in prior years,” the Navy said.
NAVFAC provides electricity to Kapilina and bills the property manager for the energy use. The Navy said it does not provide metering or billing services to the residents. That is provided by Kapilina, the housing management company.
The recent price the Navy charged Kapilina was 19.7 cents kWh, it said. The new cost, as of Tuesday, is 32 cents. The Hawaiian Electric Co. said its residential rate is 28.5 cents.
To make the issue more confusing, some Kapilina residents said they noticed a rate of 28.7 cents on their latest bills.
“This is my personal take on this — I hope that they are not raising these residents’ (bills) or the rates of their electricity to start investing to try to upgrade the electricity,” Fevella said.
In 2017, a collaborative federal, state and private sector study noted that HECO was unwilling to take over the Navy power system at the nearby former Naval Air Station Barbers Point due to concerns over its condition.
Since the 1999 base closure, “the Navy has not made any investments in the electrical system, making repairs only as needed, such that the current system does not meet industry standards,” the report said.
HECO estimated power system upgrades in Kalaeloa would cost $300 million to $400 million, while the study suggested alternative power production methods at a cost of between $200 million and $300 million.
Although the Navy mission in the Kalaeloa area has ended, the Navy said it will continue to respond to outages and perform maintenance until the system no longer belongs to the Navy.
“We’ve had many discussions with the Navy about Kalealoa, but there are currently no plans for Hawaiian Electric to take over its system,” HECO spokesman Jim Kelly said.
HECO has been working “for some time” with a handful of customers who are paying to get connected to its grid, he said.
“We know the Navy wants to get out of the utility business, but the scope of work to bring the Kalaeloa system up to modern standards is huge and so far we haven’t seen a practical plan for paying for it,” Kelly said.
Ferrera, the Kapilina resident, said there have been about six power outages this year, including 12 hours on one occasion and 18 hours on another.
She wants to know why Kapilina appears to have already raised electricity rates.
“We think what’s happening is when they send NAVFAC out here to fix whatever the problem is — they (Kapilina) are giving us the bill,” she said.
Recent price the Navy charged Kapilina
New cost as of Tuesday
Residential rate for HECO customers