KAHULUI - Lowering customer bills, pushing toward a clean energy future, modernizing the existing power grid and creating fairness for all customers were the four priorities that Maui Electric Co. officials discussed at their Integrated Resource Planning public meeting Thursday night.
The meeting was held as part of a yearlong process to gather public comment on a draft five-year action plan for the utility to meet future energy needs and identify what resources it will need to do so, according to company officials. Fewer than 20 community members attended Thursday's meeting at Pomaikai Elementary School, with only five offering public testimony.
This is the second round of public meetings held as part of the utility's planning process. In December, the first round drew fewer than 20 members of the public.
"Maui Electric is very concerned about the high price of electricity not only on Maui but on Lanai and Molokai, and we will continue to keep that in mind as we move forward, making sure our decisions are in the best interest of our customers," MECO Chief Executive Officer Sharon Suzuki said at last week's meeting.
Suzuki presented a broad overview of both short-term actions that the utility plans on exploring within the next five years as well as long-range planning of possible renewable energy initiatives over the next 20 years.
The utility and a 68-member advisory group drafted the action plan that proposed shutting down of Kahului Power Plant, what many residents dubbed an outdated and inefficient facility.
Utility officials said that they are "definitely planning" on shutting down the Kahului plant by 2019. However, to continue meeting Central Maui's energy needs, the utility must first upgrade and reinforce existing power grids - particularly, a 69-kilovolt transmission line from Waiinu to Kanaha.
"This is the most definitive we've ever been about it to date," MECO Renewable Energy Services Manager Mathew McNeff said after the meeting. "It's an older plant. We need to replace it with something that is more flexible. The tricky thing is . . . in order to retire that plant, we need to reinforce that Kanaha-Waiinu line."
A letter submitted from the Mayor's Office, signed by Mayor Alan Arakawa and Maui County Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa, expressed concern with the utility's "reluctance" to retire the Kahului Power Plant up until now.
"We also share the (Public Utility) Commission's concerns about MECO's reluctance to retire the Kahului Power Plant and the need to eliminate the dumping of unused wind energy that could replace about 6 percent of MECO's fossil fuel generation load," the letter read.
The letter questioned whether it was prudent for ratepayers to pay for the utility's budgeted $806,000 in integrated resource planning expenses.
Indeed, the presentation on Thursday lacked mention of any monetary measurements, and left some residents wanting.
Retired University of Hawaii Maui College professor Dick Mayer said that the presentation was too general and lacked critical "dollar values and quantifiable metrics" that would help residents better understand MECO costs and operations.
"To me, a plan - whether I'm building a house, buying a car or, in this case, planning for a renewable energy future - should have dollar figures attached to it so we know what the costs are going to be, what effect that will have on the consumer . . . a better idea of what the alternatives are," Mayer said in testimony.
"Translate it to cost per kilowatt hour," he asked of MECO officials.
McNeff said after the meeting that it would have been "information overload" if officials had presented all the numbers that will be included in the report.
"We could go all day if we wanted to, but we're just here more to gather public testimony," McNeff said.
He added that the full report, with more detailed figures, will be online and available for public comment at the end of the month. Public comments should be sent to email@example.com. Testimony should include a person's name, the date and island of residency.
This week, MECO will host public meetings on Molokai and Lanai.
Hawaiian Electric on Oahu and Hawaiian Electric Light Co. on the Big Island are going through similar processes as required by the state Public Utilities Commission. All three Hawaiian Electric companies must submit their draft action plans to the commission by June 28.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.