Expect more static
on HECO proposal


Hawaiian Electric has unveiled its plan for underground transmission lines it says are needed for power reliability.

NOW that Hawaiian Electric has answered the multimillion-dollar question about where it will lay new transmission lines, the company's next task will be to convince ratepayers and critics that the lines are truly needed and that its latest plan is the best way to achieve power reliability. That may prove formidable.

HECO's proposal to string a 138-kilovolt line over Waahila Ridge was cut off by intense community opposition, primarily because of visual blight and potential harm to cultural sites on the conservation-zoned land. However, during the contentious approval process, other issues also emerged and the company will surely have to confront them in addition to the predictable challenges to its new route selection.

Since the project's $59 million price tag -- which includes the $18 million HECO has spent to plot and push its proposal -- will be passed on to consumers, there will likely be protests about the costs, too.

After the Waahila failure, Hawaiian Electric fielded public comment on three other plans to place underground lines in the urban core, saying they are needed for reliable power from East Honolulu through Waikiki, Oahu's premiere tourist zone. It has chosen to bury three miles of 46-kilovolt lines in McCully and Pawaa-Ala Moana in a first phase and 1.9 miles from Cooke Street in downtown Honolulu to McCully in the second.

HECO's plan to place the lines underground should satisfy those who don't want more wires strung overhead, but others contend that the issue goes beyond aesthetics.

Decentralized or on-site power generation that would improve reliability and eliminate the need for miles of transmission lines at the same time are concepts HECO should consider, if not now, at least for future improvements. Centralized systems are more vulnerable to weather-related events like hurricanes as well as to terrorism. Advances in electricity production and distribution should be analyzed with the eye to future needs as new housing and commercial development will continue to tap into the grid.

The company maintains that unless it can install the lines, Oahu is at risk for massive power failures. However, a hearings officer in the Waahila case -- citing HECO's own assessment that reliability gains would not justify the plan's $31 million cost and that the company rates its reliability at 99.98 percent -- disputed that claim.

The issue of need remains the toughest HECO will have to overcome as it seeks public and government approval for its project.


Hefty fine dwarfed
by contract riches


An engineering firm has agreed to pay a $303,000 fine to the state Campaign Spending Commission for violating contributions rules.

HAWAII'S fourth-largest engineering firm has agreed to pay a state record fine of $303,000 for campaign contribution violations, but it could have been worse. The company skirted through a window of opportunity that will allow it to bid on future city and state contracts, which are sure to vastly exceed the fine. Contract bidding will be off-limits to campaign-spending violators fined after the new rules adopted by the state Procurement Policy Board go into effect in a few weeks.

Michael Matsumoto, chief executive officer of SSFM International Inc., agreed to pay the fine to the state Campaign Spending Commission. Matsumoto was accused of laundering more than $400,000 in illegal campaign funds to Mayor Harris, former Gov. Ben Cayetano, ex-Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana and other Hawaii Democrats.

SSFM receives about $10 million in annual revenues and has taken in about $4 million in city work since 1996. Its officers allegedly used a special checking account to advance money to friends and relatives for many of the campaign donations. Matsumoto, who did not admit wrongdoing, earlier pleaded no contest to a criminal charge of laundering nearly $140,000 in donations to the Harris campaign.

Also, the engineering firm of Wilson Okamoto & Associates agreed to pay a $48,000 fine for making donations under false names totaling more than $50,000 to the Harris and Cayetano campaigns.

Making contributions through friends, employees or false names is a way of exceeding legal donation limits of $4,000 to a mayoral candidate and $6,000 for a person running for governor. Naturally, the politicians claim to know nothing about such activity, and both the donors and the recipients deny any relationship between political donations and city or state contracts.

The only explanation for the risky and expensive behavior is Pavlovian. Under the new procurement rules, the bell-trained dogs will have to be awarded bones on the basis of merit, if the rules work as intended.



Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Larry Johnson,
Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke, Colbert
Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe,
Frank Teskey, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor, 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor, 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor, 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;

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