Categorized | Business, Energy

HELCO asks PUC for 2013 rate increase


(Hilo, Hawaii) – Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) today asked the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for a 4.2% increase in rates, equal to $19.8 million in added revenue. This is the first HELCO rate request since 2009, after which the PUC ultimately approved a 1.3% increase.

Any increase, if approved, would not go into effect until next year, at the earliest, after public input and an evidentiary hearing by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission is completed. If the entire request is approved, it would add $8.32 to a typical 500 kilowatt-hour monthly residential electric bill.

HELCO’s rate request includes funding for acquisition of more renewable energy projects and clean energy integration programs, including:

  • advanced wind forecasting systems
  • computerized models and tools to analyze integration of more distributed, customer-sited solar power on the grid, and
  • enhanced sensors and tools to help system operators manage more variable clean energy on the grid.

“Nearly 60 percent of our customers’ electric bills go to pay the cost of fuel and purchased power. So it makes sense for HELCO to aggressively pursue renewable energy technologies that are not dependent upon oil and that will reduce the cost of electric service in the long run,” said Jay Ignacio, HELCO president.

“As existing renewable contracts expire, or perhaps sooner if developers will agree, we will renegotiate these contracts to remove the link to oil as well, providing more stable and lower prices than customers face today.”

HELCO already leads Hawaii’s transition to clean energy, with more than 40% of the electricity Big Island customers use coming from renewable resources today. With continued rapid growth of roof-top solar, additional biomass energy from Hu Honua and recent expanded operations at Puna Geothermal Venture, more than 50% of the island’s energy will soon be renewable.

HELCO’s rate request also includes funding for grid maintenance and system upgrades that are needed to provide safe and reliable service.

“We need to increase tree trimming, pole and line maintenance and rebuild parts of our transmission system to better serve our customers. Our electric grid remains just as important for our customers as we increase the use of resources like photovoltaics, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass and biofuels,” he said.

“We understand the difficulties high oil prices and a struggling economy have placed upon our customers but we need to make these investments so this burden of oil dependence does not continue to plague our community in the future,” Ignacio said.

The PUC and the state Division of Consumer Advocacy will conduct an extensive review of the request with opportunity for public comment. The PUC is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed 2013 increase later this year and an evidentiary hearing next year. The PUC may grant an interim increase within 11 months of the rate case filing; however, there is no guarantee of such an increase. The amount and timing of any final increase is at the discretion of the PUC.

This request is part of a cycle implemented by the PUC under the “decoupling” system in which each Hawaiian Electric utility undergoes an in-depth review of operations and finances by the PUC and the Consumer Advocate every three years. Decoupling is designed to more closely track utility expenses and prevent larger though less frequent rate increases.

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