October 1999 Home   Newsletters

December, 1999

January 2000

Annual General Membership Meeting
President's Message - Our Planning Meeting (Grace Furukawa)
New Members / Contributions
Planning Committee Report
Transportation - Here We Are Again! (Arlene Ellis)
Energy for the Millennium Conference (Grace Furukawa)
Waahila Powerline Issue Is Due to Thinking Small (Grace Furukawa)

The Waahila Powerline Issue is Due to Thinking Small –

This Is All Of Oahu We Are Talking About

Reprint of the editorial in the Honolulu Advertiser 10/26/99

Opponents to Hawaiian Electric Company's (HECO) plans to route a portion of a new high-voltage power line along Waahila Ridge above Manoa Valley can't be faulted for suspecting the electric company has a one-tract mind on the subject. The environment in which this issue is unfolding is only partly of HECOs making. The fact is that Oahu – ALL OF IT – suffers from decades of decisions in which a few bucks were saved at the expense of ever more visual blight.

Most of us who have lived here for a while have learned to mentally edit out the tangle of wires that mar our most beautiful viewplanes. But in so doing, we only fool ourselves as to what visitors see when they train their innocent eyes on our spoiled vistas. We're in this fix because we've been thinking small each time HECO seeks permission to improve the reliability of our electrical supply. We're presented with a choice: cheap and – well – ugly, or aesthetically pleasing with a substantial cost to ratepayers.

That choice is offered to all Oahu ratepayers, not just those in the neighborhood directly affected. So the choice almost always is cheap. Why should Pearl City residents, for instance, pay more for Manoa's visual comfort? After all, where were Manoa residents when HECO marched similarly huge steel poles through Pearl City back yards a few years ago?

The truth is that, as a community, we've been irresponsible in allowing our beautiful island to be incrementally developed in this way. Particularly considering our dependence on the visitor industry, we should have assumed many years ago that undergrounding electrical transmission lines – and other utility wires – was simply a necessary cost of living here.

State lawmakers have begun to recognize this reality in requiring the Public Utilities Commission to evaluate and make specific findings on nine factors – including community sentiment and aesthetics – when determining whether high power lines go overhead or underground.

But that's a long way from a public policy that mandates the presumption that all wires should go underground, unless it can be shown they won't cause visual blight.

Most important, such a policy must recognize that public funds, not just ratepayers must make up the cost difference. If there is a general benefit to a more expensive process, then there should be a way to ensure that general funds help support that benefit.

We happen to be confronting this issue now because of a proposal to put overhead lines along Waahila Ridge. But the truth is, we should have begun undergrounding our utilities many years ago. We must make up for lost time.

The editorial above points out the island wide nature of this problem. The article about the Conference on Energy for the Millennium broadens the issue to consider the use of alternate energy systems now available and other technologies being developed – ready for use in 5-10 years. The use of alternate energy technology would significantly reduce the need for wires – either overhead or underground. Recognition of this fact requires bold political thinking now.

Grace Furukawa
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