Hawaii, like California, has pushed electric utilities to invest in renewable energy, rather than maintaining their current transmission lines and ensuring that brush would not affect their operations. Now that Maui has had a fire that has killed over 100 people and cost tens of billions of dollars in property losses, blue state politicians and liberal newspapers like the New York Times have blamed the wildfires on climate change. Hawaii’s Democratic Governor Josh Green repeatedly suggested in the wake of the disaster that climate change and its effects were the primary cause, with Governor Green stating that climate change is “the ultimate reason that so many people perished.” While that is an easy scape goat, it is fake news. There are many contributing factors to the fire, but the biggest one is the left’s obsession with “green energy.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, four years ago, Hawaiian Electric indicated that it needed to do more to prevent its power lines from emitting sparks. The utility vowed to take steps to protect its equipment and its customers from the threat of fire. Between 2019 and 2022, it invested less than $245,000 on wildfire-specific projects on the island, according to regulatory filings. The utility did not seek state approval to raise rates to pay for broad wildfire-safety improvements until 2022 and has yet to receive approval.
Hawaiian Electric is now facing scrutiny, litigation and a financial crisis because its power lines might have played a role in igniting the fire, despite the fire’s source having not yet been determined. The situation is reminiscent of California forcing Pacific Gas & Electric to pay for fires in its territory a few years back. In 2018, the downed power lines owned by the PG&E were linked to the Camp Fire that killed 85 people in and around the town of Paradise. The company agreed to pay $13.5 billion in settlement payments to victims of that fire and several others.
According to CNN, last year, Hawaiian Electric asked the state Public Utilities Commission to allow it to spend $189 million on climate resiliency efforts over the next five years, including to protect against wildfires and downed power lines. “The risk of a utility system causing a wildfire ignition is significant,” the company’s application stated, citing the PG&E situation. The document states Hawaiian Electric had launched wildfire “prevention and mitigation” programs in 2019 and that the company planned to upgrade hardware, replace equipment and install video cameras, among other efforts, in wildfire-risk areas in coming years. The utility said that it would not begin the work until it had negotiated a deal with the state to recover the costs from ratepayers, which is typical for utility companies making major investments.
According to the Washington Examiner, “After the 2019 wildfire season, Hawaiian Electric even commissioned a report, which concluded that the utility should do far more to prevent its power lines from setting invasive grasses on fire. Since that report less than $245,000 was spent on wildfire projects. Instead, the utility spent millions trying to meet a 2015 mandate created by Democrats that would require 100% of the utility’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2045. Because of the Democratic Party’s obsession with climate change, Hawaiian Electric devoted all its resources to renewable energy and next to nothing towards wildfire suppression. And now over 100 people are dead as a direct result.”
According to Travis Fisher at the CATO Institute, “An objective look at the data does not reveal a link between CO2 emissions and wildfires, certainly not the causal link needed in a court setting. That causal link may be shown eventually, but the IPCC reports do not provide the degree of attribution certainty required in a lawsuit.”
For years before the fires, government agencies understood that Western Maui, the hardest-hit area, was particularly susceptible to wildfires because of high concentrations of non-native grasses in the area. An assessment report from 2020 stated that the region had a 90 percent chance of wildfires each year on average, a percentage calculated due to the non-native dry grasses. Despite the dry grass in the region posing a threat, the state allowed it to grow without doing much to trim it or otherwise keep it under control. Grasses had taken hold as Maui’s sugar plantations were closed, with the last one closing in 2016. Some had complained about the ritual of burning cane fields as part of the agricultural process, but those fires were managed, unlike the non-native invasive grasses that replaced the sugar cane farming.
According to the Daily Caller, the fires began in earnest the morning of August 8, when a downed power line reportedly sparked some dry grass and started the fire. At 1 p.m., West Maui Land Co. made a request to the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), asking the agency for permission to divert stream water to their reservoirs so that firefighters on the front lines could have access to more water to battle the flames. In response, the department’s Commission on Water Resource Management told the company to contact a downstream farmer to ensure that a temporary diversion would not impact his taro farming operation in undesirable ways. The company tried to make contact with the farmer, but communications were spotty owing to communications breakdowns related to the fires. The agency eventually granted approval to the company at 6 p.m., about five hours after the request had been made. By that point, the fires were raging out of control, shutting down a key roadway and making it impossible for the company to access the siphon which would have allowed it to divert the water into the right places for the firefighters to access.
Instead of spending millions of dollars on fire prevention as was recommended, Hawaii’s Public Utility Commission spent that money and more on complying with a state law that insists by 2045, the state will be 100 percent renewable energy. Now, like California and PG&E, the left wants to blame the wildfires on the utility and have them pay for damages, but the real corruption is the law that makes the spending go to renewable energy rather than maintaining the lines and discarding the brush around them. The law makers should be held responsible for making companies invest in renewable technology that is not needed, shuttering perfectly good generating plants, and then charging the utilities for the damages, while they continue to provide their mission–supplying power to their communities. To blame fires on climate change when there were clear breakdowns in the prevention of and response to the fires is simply demagoguery.