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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 6, 2003

HECO adds public input to expansion request

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Hawaiian Electric Co. yesterday released a final report summarizing public input from a series of meetings held in June and July on its proposed multimillion-dollar East O'ahu Transmission Project.

The report will be presented to the Public Utilities Commission, the approving authority for the proposed project, to be considered with HECO's formal proposal.

The company says one of its three transmission-line alternatives will move forward by the end of the year.

Most of the 177 people who attended the public meetings and submitted evaluations said they had a better understand of the options afterward, said Robbie Alm, HECO's vice president for public affairs. Most of the questions or concerns were about the actual need for a new transmission line.

"We learned a lot about community opinion on the three alternatives under consideration," Alm said, noting that it was the first time the utility gathered public input before an expansion project.

"We know the public input process can be improved. We intend to do better next time."

The 60-page report prepared by 3Point Consulting includes comments from a Community Advisory Committee made up of residents, businesses and opponents of HECO's failed Wa'ahila Ridge project and is available at www.heco.com.

Dominant themes were that the transmission project is not needed; opposition to a proposal for a 138,000-volt underground transmission line; and criticism of where HECO held the meetings.

3Point conducted HECO's public meetings in Honolulu, Waipahu and Kane'ohe detailing the company's plans for a 138,000-volt underground transmission line to connect the Kamoku and Pukele substations, or else 46,000-volt lines through the city streets. The new line would back up HECO's electrical system and improve reliability, the company said.

The line through Palolo could cost $122 million and raise the average monthly residential home bill $2 a month. The 46,000-volt alternatives would cost as much as $59 million and raise monthly residential bills as much as $1 a month.

The PUC will decide whether the benefits of a new transmission line outweigh the cost to ratepayers. The PUC will hold its own public hearings, with a consumer advocate to represent the public.

Public opposition was a major factor in the Board of Land and Natural Resources' rejection last year of a $35 million transmission line along Wa'ahila Ridge. Opponents said the line was not needed and would scar a historic area.

Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, said the report released yesterday was important in providing a big picture.

"I'm glad that 3Point didn't whitewash the HECO approach," Curtis said. "I'm glad they included how the community feels about the project. An objective reading of the report shows that HECO did not demonstrate any need for the project."

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.