published : 2023-09-29

Hawaiian Electric CEO Defends Decision Not to De-Energize Power Lines

Hawaiian Electric CEO Shelee Kimura testifies on Capitol Hill

An aerial shot of Hawaiian Electric's power lines stretching against the backdrop of the beautiful Lahaina landscape, taken with a Nikon D850.

Hawaiian Electric CEO Shelee Kimura appeared before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday to defend the utility's controversial decision not to de-energize power lines before a deadly wildfire engulfed the historic town of Lahaina.

The wildfire, which claimed the lives of at least 115 people, was ignited by power lines falling to the ground due to high winds.

Kimura explained that a pre-emptive shutdown of power lines was not part of the utility's protocol, despite anticipating winds of over 60 miles per hour.

Instead, Hawaiian Electric relied on the closure of problematic electrical circuits, a long-held protocol that did not involve re-energizing them.

Shelee Kimura, the CEO of Hawaiian Electric, addressing the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee during the hearing, captured with a Canon EOS R5.

While the utility had studied pre-emptive shutdowns, Kimura deemed such a protocol unsuitable for the unique conditions in Hawaii.

The questioning during the hearing was intense, with U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, the subcommittee chair, asking Kimura why de-energizing was not implemented.

Kimura responded by highlighting the alternative protocols that were in place.

The aftermath of the wildfire has seen Hawaiian Electric face multiple lawsuits, including those from affected residents, the county, and its investors.

The devastation caused by the wildfire in Lahaina, with smoke billowing over the historic town, captured by a Sony A7III.

The utility's stock has plummeted nearly 70% since the devastating fire.

The hearing also summoned officials from the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission and the Hawaii State Energy Office to investigate the causes of the wildfire.