Thursday, September 2, 2004

Health concerns stir
criticism of HECO plan

The electric company says
the underground project is
necessary to increase reliability

More than two dozen people -- including lawmakers and community leaders -- testified last night against Hawaiian Electric Co.'s $60 million plan to improve the system that carries power to East Oahu, saying the underground project was overpriced, unsafe and unneeded.

"When your car has a flat, do you leave it by the road and buy a new one?" asked Kat Brady, assistant executive director of environmental nonprofit Life of the Land. "HECO continues to ignore the pleas of the people."

The gathering was the first and only scheduled public hearing before the utilities commission, which is expected to decide late next year whether to approve HECO's plan.

If given the go-ahead, the project would begin in 2006 with the installation of 46-kilovolt underground transmission lines from the Makaloa substation to the McCully substation.

Also in the project's first phase -- expected to take a year -- transmission lines would be installed along Winam Avenue in Kapahulu and on Date Street near the Kamoku substation.

The second phase, a 15-month project that HECO is hoping to start in 2008, would include transmission line installation along King Street to Young and McCully streets.

The utility says the lines would increase Oahu's power reliability for residents from downtown Honolulu to Makapuu Point by allowing East Oahu's electricity to be sent along an alternative corridor.

"Essentially, this alternative allows load to be shifted among the three substations and also allows the substations to back up each other," Tom Joaquin, HECO's senior vice president of operations, told attendees last night.

The project will "address several transmission problems that can affect system reliability -- problems that we have been aware of and have been trying to deal with for well over a decade."

Concerns raised included the project's expected costs to consumers and the possible health effects of underground transmission lines on children and seniors.

"This project just is not needed," said Palolo resident Carolyn Walther, adding that the utility should look into renewable-energy initiatives. "When HECO becomes technologically current ... I will be there to support them."

City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, whose district includes Moiliili and McCully, testified that the electric and magnetic fields from underground transmission lines could cause health problems and that HECO's plans put the lines too near residents' homes and an elementary school.

"The potential health risks outweighs HECO's short-term interests," said Kobayashi, who was joined by state Rep. Scott Saiki and Sen. Carol Fukunaga.

HECO's project would be subsidized by a rate increase, which also has to be approved by the commission. Under HECO's plan a typical monthly household electric bill would go up by about $1 a month for 30 to 40 years.



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