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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Report argues against Wa'ahila power line

Fifteen years ago, a power outage in Palolo cut off thousands of avid football fans from the Super Bowl game, and a plan to prevent future such power failures was born.

But the Hawaiian Electric Co.'s proposal to link its Kamoku substation in McCully with the Pukele substation in upper Palolo Valley — via a high-voltage line on the scenic Wa'ahila Ridge above Manoa Valley — has sparked a firestorm of debate.

Enter retired Circuit Judge E. John McConnell, who was appointed by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to assess the project. He now recommends that the DNLR reject HECO's application to build the Wa'ahila Ridge project.

HECO says it will move forward undeterred, and has until July to prepare to defend its plan before the DNLR board. We suggest the board seriously consider the arguments raised by McConnell. Power lines already are a blight on O'ahu's vistas, and HECO has been slow to look at alternatives to the tangle of buzzing overhead wires.

McConnell says HECO had "substantially overstated" the public's need for the new power lines, and "has failed to establish that there is a public benefit for its proposed project which outweighs its adverse impacts on conservation district lands."

Moreover, he says substantial improvements made to the electrical system in recent years make a repeat of the infamous Super Bowl Sunday blackout unlikely.

As an alternative, McConnell suggests live-line maintenance or installing underground lines up Palolo Avenue. He concedes that undergrounding would cost $8.6 million more than the Wa'ahila Ridge plan. However, he suggests HECO has already spent close to that amount on its effort to win its Wa'ahila case.

It has been our position that the Public Utilities Commission should have determined, right from the get-go, whether the project was needed at all, before the DLNR was asked to rule on the appropriateness of the site. There is a case to be made that HECO's "ring of reliability" may unwisely commit the utility to fossil fuels, even after their availability wanes and clean alternatives become cost-effective.