Fri, Sep 15, 2023 4:02 PM
By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square
A U.S. House committee will hold a hearing on Hawaiian Electric's reaction to the Maui fires later this month.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash, and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said there were questions about a downed power line sparking dry grass and contributing to the fires. The committee also wants more information on the utility company's work on its power grid in recent years.
"We must come to a complete understanding of how this disaster started to ensure Hawaii and other states are prepared to prevent and stop other deadly wildfires," Rodgers and Griffith said in a joint statement. “In our capacity as Chairs of the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the U.S. House of Representatives and its respective energy policy and oversight subcommittees, we are empowered to oversee energy supply, reliability of all power, and regulation of energy resources throughout the country. To that end, we seek a fuller understanding of the role, if any, of the electric infrastructure in this tragic event.”
Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, will testify at the September 28 hearing. The utility's chairman, Leodoloff Asuncion Jr. and Mark Glick, the chief energy officer for the state, will also appear, according to the committee.
Maui County sued Hawaiian Electric last month. The suit alleged the utility company's failure to shut off the power lines during a red flag warning on August 7 led to downed power lines sparking the dry grass.
The official cause of the fire is under investigation by the state attorney general's office.
Gov. Josh Green said last week all of Maui will reopen on Oct. 8. The western part of the island affected by the fires is still closed as officials work on cleaning up the damage. Tourism is the state's top industry, and returning visitors will help spur the economy, he said.
The reopening will not affect efforts to house fire victims, the governor said this week.
"Our commitment is to get people to 18 months of housing," Green said in a social media post. "But we're not going to kick people out of hotels. What we're going to do is we're going to try and consolidate so that we only use a few hotels so we can get services to people."
The fire killed 115 people. It is the deadliest U.S. fire in 100 years.