By Tim McLaughlin
BOSTON (Reuters) -Hawaiian Electric CEO Shelee Kimura on Thursday defended the utility’s decision not to de-energize power lines before high winds precipitated a deadly wildfire that killed at least 115 people and razed the historic town of Lahaina.
Kimura said before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee that a pre-emptive shutdown of power lines was not part of the utility’s protocol, even as Hawaiian Electric was bracing for high winds of more than 60 miles (96.56 km) per hour.
Along with Kimura, the committee also summoned officials of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission and Hawaii State Energy Office to testify at a hearing investigating the causes of the wildfire.
“Tell us and the American people, why you didn’t de-energize?” asked U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, a Virginia Republican who chairs the subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
“We had other protocols in place,” Kimura responded.
She explained that the long-held protocol relied on the closure of problem electrical circuits and not re-energizing them. The utility studied pre-emptive shutdowns of power, but Kimura said such a protocol “was not an appropriate fit for Hawaii.”
An early morning fire started on Aug. 8 when power lines fell to the ground from high winds. The fire was contained and then extinguished several hours later, Kimura said.
Power lines were de-energized after the morning fire, but a second fire later in the day, whose cause has not been determined, swept through the historic town of Lahaina.
Hawaiian Electric is facing lawsuits and proposed class actions filed by Maui residents and the county, and has been sued by its investors, all largely claiming that the utility was responsible as a result of negligent mismanagement of its electrical equipment.
The stock of the utility’s parent company, Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc, has dropped nearly 70% since the deadly fire.
(Reporting By Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Richard Chang)
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