Hawaiian Electric, the largest power utility in Hawaii, is facing a wave of lawsuits and public outrage after the deadly wildfires that swept across Maui last week. The company is accused of negligence, mismanagement, and failing to prevent its power lines from sparking the inferno that killed at least 101 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
According to a lawsuit filed by a group of Maui residents, Hawaiian Electric had been aware of the wildfire risk posed by its aging and vulnerable grid for years, but did not take adequate measures to mitigate it. The lawsuit claims that the company had delayed or canceled several grid modernization projects that could have reduced the chance of power lines igniting fires in dry and windy conditions.
The lawsuit also alleges that Hawaiian Electric ignored the recommendations of its own consultants and regulators, who had urged the company to adopt a proactive approach to wildfire prevention, such as installing fire-resistant poles and wires, clearing vegetation around power lines, and implementing a public safety power shutoff (PSPS) program that would allow the company to de-energize certain circuits during high fire danger periods.
The plaintiffs argue that Hawaiian Electric’s failure to implement these measures was a result of its focus on transitioning to clean energy sources, which they say came at the expense of maintaining and upgrading its existing infrastructure. They contend that the company prioritized its profits and reputation over the safety of its customers and the environment.
Hawaiian Electric has declined to comment on the pending lawsuits, saying that it would violate its internal policy. The company has also stated that the cause of the fire has not been determined yet, and that it will cooperate with the state and county authorities in their investigation.
The Maui wildfires have exposed the vulnerability of Hawaii’s electrical grid, which relies heavily on overhead power lines that traverse through remote and rugged terrain. The wildfires have also raised questions about whether Hawaiian Electric and other utilities are doing enough to adapt to the changing climate, which is expected to bring more frequent and intense droughts, heat waves, and storms to the islands.