Hawaii lawmakers considering three wildfire mitigation bills

February 28, 2024

There is a 100% certainty that there will be up to 12 wildfire events across Hawaii in 2024, according to the 2023 Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. To prepare for wildfire emergencies, Hawaiian lawmakers are working on three bills that would help mitigate wildfire risk, establish a relief fund and authorize bonds for wildfire-related costs and expenses.

Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest utility, has thrown its support behind passing these bills, according to an earnings conference call.

“It’s clear that supporting Maui’s recovery and addressing the increasing risk of wildfires as our climate changes will take a whole of society approach,” said Scott Seu, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), which serves 95% of the state’s 1.4 million residents.

The first bill would establish the Catastrophic Wildfire Securitization Act, a House proposal that would allow the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to authorize bonds for wildfire safety and recovery. The measure would help Hawaiian Electric and other utility companies raise money for recovery costs and expenses from catastrophic wildfires. Wildfires become catastrophic when they have damaged or destroyed more than 500 buildings.

House members are still considering their bill, and the Senate is will vote on its version of the measure March 1.

A separate Senate proposal would create the Wildfire Risk Mitigation Plan, establishing standards for wildfire mitigation planning. The measure would require electric utilities to create wildfire protection plans with annual updates. It would also protect electric utilities from civic liability for following the approved protection plan in the event of death, injury or property damage.

“This bill will give utilities the tools we need to make our grids safe and resilient,” Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) Chief Operations Officer Jimmy Alberts told the bill’s Senate committee.

The Senate has passed the measure, which is now being considered in the House.

Hawaiian Electric issued its own wildfire mitigation plan in 2023 to minimize the chances of utility facilities causing or contributing to wildfires. Under the plan, Hawaiian Electric will perform inspections, manage vegetation, harden systems and increase situational awareness. The plan also includes a proposal to use video cameras to monitor for compromised electrical facilities or whether fires are near the facilities.

A third Senate bill would establish the Hawaii Wildfire Relief Fund to help compensate property damage due to catastrophic wildfires. The proposal would allow claimants to receive compensation faster by avoiding lawsuits. It would also shield utilities, counties, landowners and others from litigation.

“The fund not only provides compensation to property owners and insurers; it also helps the State and individuals avoid the costs and burdens of litigation, as well as the financial instability that can result from litigation due to catastrophic wildfires,” HECO Chief Information Officer Jason Benn said in testimony before the bill’s Senate committee.

The measure has passed the House, and will be up for a Senate vote March 1.

Hawaii is not the only statehouse considering wildfire mitigation legislation. California Sen. Chris Dodd recently introduced the Wildfire Mitigation Planning Act — a measure designed to prevent and contain wildfire by coordinating efforts between state, federal and private entities.

The proposal “would require the Office of Electric Infrastructure Safety to prepare a report every three years to quantify the potential benefits of actions taken by state and private actors to reduce wildfire risk,” according to Sen. Dodd’s office.  “The bill also would require the office to prepare a wildfire risk baseline, forecasting wildfire risk and risk mitigation potential over the next one to 10 years.”

Photo by State Farm

Paul Stinson

Paul Stinson has more than 15 years of journalism experience, including a decade covering the legislative and regulatory affairs of Texas, South Africa, and Germany for an affiliate of Bloomberg, L.P. His experience includes covering voting rights and the sectors of environment, energy, labor, healthcare, and taxes. Stinson joined the team in October as a reporter for SPI’s news publications, which include Government Contracting Pipeline, Texas Government Insider, and the newly-launched Government Market News. He is also a Fulbright Scholar to Germany, and an Arthur F. Burns Fellow. He holds a master’s in journalism from Indiana University.   

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