Conservation a good defense against rising electric bills
Hawaiian Electric has given notice that it will seek a rate increase later this year.
When Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. reports profits have swelled fivefold and in the next breath gives notice its Oahu utility unit will seek a rate increase
, consumer complaints are inevitable.
With the cost of basic necessities ticking up almost daily, paying more for power won't sit well with HECO's customers who were just hit with a rate increase less than seven months ago. But the harsh reality is that electricity costs will continue to rise even as the company moves away from oil and toward renewable energy sources.
All consumers can do is conserve, adopting what Vice President Dick Cheney once cynically described as a "personal virtue," and consider installing the solar devices they can afford, which will pay off in the long run.
HECO has not settled on the level of increase it will ask the state Public Utilities Commission to consider later this year, but whatever it decides, the amount will come on top of a 4.96 percent rise granted last October, the second since 2005.
The increase helped parent company HEI gain profit growth of $34 million in the first quarter of this year. Though kilowatt-hour sales were flat at all of its units on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii island compared to the same quarter in 2007, electric utility revenues grew to $24.6 million, compared to $500,000 in the same period last year.
To be fair, the marked revenue increase was unusual, tied to a $7 million write-off in 2007 for expansion of a Big Island plant. Nonetheless, the fine points probably don't matter to customers who pay the highest rates in the nation for electricity.
Consumers should not expect that their bills will drop, because the price of oil, which, unlike Hawaii, just a few mainland power producers use for electricity, is expected to climb with worldwide demand for petroleum products. As Hawaiian Electric develops renewable energy sources, the company's costs will grow in tandem with necessary investments in new infrastructure, equipment and modifications.
The PUC, which tries to balance the company's financial needs with customers' ability to pay, will set rates accordingly, but an increase is an increase regardless.
Consumers have few options but to cut use. Besides energy-nipping light bulbs, turning off lights, television sets, computers and power strips will reduce kilowatt costs. Hanging clothes to dry in the sun instead of tumbling them in machines, installing timers on water heaters and using fans in lieu of air conditioners will help. Contrary to Cheney's opinion, conservation is good energy policy.