Manoa fights power poles 'desecration'
By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer
Putting bigger power poles above Manoa Valley is like killing Kauhi, the legendary figure profiled along Wa'ahila Ridge, the last of Oahu's "sleeping giant" geographic landmarks, said Hawaiian cultural expert Kimo Keaulana.
Chuck Freedman of HECO points to California problems.
But Hawaiian Electric countered again yesterday that the Manoa route is the "responsible and economic way to go" to provide a back-up source of power to the Pukele substation that supplies power to much of East O'ahu, including the business hub downtown and the center of tourism at Waikiki.
The first government public hearing on HECO's plan is 6 p.m. Thursday before the Board of Land and Natural Resources, which is being asked to approve a permit for the line and poles through the conservation land in the valley.
The community group Malama o Manoa said yesterday the company first should go to the the State Public Utilities Commission and prove there that the line is even needed.
Chuck Freedman, vice president for corporate relations for HECO, responded yesterday that "the practice has been, and I understand the PUC's preference is, that they take a look at everything need, cost, alignment when they actually authorize us to go ahead and spend money, and that has typically come at the end of these processes, not at the beginning.
"There is a logic in it, in that they want to look at all the reviews that any related government agency has done, and there is a range of nine issues, including public concerns and aesthetics, that they have to look at by statute," Freedman said.
The company spokesman also rejected opponents' complaints that the power line is just the last-gasp extension of an outmoded technology, at a time when other options including smaller regional generating plants and alternative energy sources are available.
"If the alternatives they are discussing are readily available on an economic basis for consumers, then why is California, the technology capital of the world, having problems both with its power generation and with its transmission lines?" Freedman asked.
"We are using the most contemporary utility standards and practices," he said.
The company proposes to follow the existing route of 46,000 volt lines along the Manoa hillside and ridge, replacing the existing poles of about 40 foot height with taller poles, the tallest of which would be about 120 feet tall, Freedman said.
If the land board blocks HECO from using the Manoa ridge route, Freedman said, the only feasible alternative is to take that portion of the line underground through Palolo Valley to the substation.
The substation is supplied by two HECO lines that come down the Windward side of the island and cross the Ko'olau into Palolo Valley.
If those lines were to go down for any reason, much of East O'ahu would be without power.
HECO is bringing the new line toward Manoa on an underground route in the urban area. The cost of the combined undergrounding and the Wa'ahila Ridge poles would be $31 million, or about $6 on the annual bill of a customer using 600 kilowatt hours of electricity a month, Freedman said.
Undergrounding the same line all the way to Pukele substation through Palolo would cost $46 million, or an additional $4 on the customer's bill.
Freedman said the average citizen would pay increased costs in other ways, as governments and businesses that are much larger power users passed along their higher costs to taxpayers and customers.
The dispute over the route could break into a battle between the valleys of Palolo and Manoa, but Manoa opponents said yesterday the issue is not protecting Manoa but protecting all of Hawai'i from overhead power lines that spoil a world-famous landscape.
Cultural expert Keaulana, tracing the image of Kauhi on the ridge skyline, said O'ahu's other two "sleeping giant" figures had long since been rendered unrecognizable by development. Legend has it that Kauhi was condemned to lie forever on the ridgeline for having killed his betrothed, the princess of Manoa, Kahalaopuna, in a jealous rage, Keaulana said.
Hawaiians also use the ridge and valley walls to collect 'ulei, lehua and ti for lei and skirts and medicinal purposes, he said.
Jeremy Lam said the tallest of the new poles, at about 130 feet, would be twice as high as the tallest Norfolk pine on the ridge.
"Is this the proper use of the conservation district?" he asked.
He said some 3,000 signatures have been gathered on a petition.
Both Mayor Jeremy Harris and Gov. Ben Cayetano have spoken out against the line, he said.