The process of finding and identifying victims of the horrific wildfire that tore through Maul last week will go on for months. Over 1,000 people are still unaccounted for. While that continues, the questions of what started this blaze are being asked rather aggressively, and a lot of eyes and attention are on Hawaiian Electric. 

Why? Because it appears the utility company was more concerned about building out its green energy network than taking action to mitigate fire risk. A story in the Wall Street Journal covered financial disclosures and reports showing that the company was worried about the condition of its electrical grid and knew there was a risk of wildfires because of it. 

This fire was the deadliest in modern American history, and Hawaiian Electric’s role is already being examined in court. Their CEO, Shelee Kimura, should brace for a rough ride as multiple investigations are underway, including one by the state attorney general. 

“We will be doing our own investigation. The state will be doing an investigation. We will cooperate fully in that. I think we all believe it’s important to understand what happened, and I think we all believe it’s important to make sure it never happens again.”

Many people believe it will all be important to punish whoever is responsible for it. In 2019, the utility said in a report that they needed to do more to mitigate fire risk.  The WSJ reported that from 2019 to 2022, Hawaii Electric spent less than $245000 on projects to mitigate fire risk. Instead, the company has been pouring moiety into its push for green energy.  In 2015, the state was the first in the country to mandate that the electrical grid be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2045.  

Mina Morita was the state’s utility commission chair from 2011-2015 and told the WSJ, “You have to look at the scope and scale of the transformation within [Hawaiian Electric] that was occurring throughout the system. While there was concern for wildfire risk, politically, the focus was on electricity generation.”

There was a plan to spend nearly $200 million in Maui to remove trees and brush from areas around power lines and shoring up the aging infrastructure, but they were waiting on approval to raise rates on customers to pay for the project, and it hasn’t happened yet. 

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