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Hawaiian Electric’s Climate Change Focus Overshadowed Wildfire Risk, WSJ Reports

Hawaiian Electric’s Climate Change Focus Overshadowed Wildfire Risk, WSJ Reports

The Wall Street Journal’s recent investigation has highlighted that Hawaiian Electric, the largest power provider in Hawaii, placed a heavy emphasis on transitioning to renewable energy sources to combat climate change, overshadowing the potential wildfire risks associated with its power lines.

Credit: DepositPhotos

As wildfires continue to impact regions across the United States, including a devastating blaze in Maui, John Podesta, an influential figure in clean energy advising President Joe Biden, linked the recent fire to climate change during a White House press conference. He used the incident as an opportunity to advocate for the Inflation Reduction Act, a year after its implementation, asserting that curbing carbon pollution is vital to preventing worsening disasters.

However, the cause of the Maui fire remains unknown, and the San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the flames were fueled by invasive grass species and winds exacerbated by an offshore hurricane.

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The Wall Street Journal’s investigation has turned the spotlight on Hawaiian Electric’s power lines as a potential factor in the wildfire. Many of these lines were suspended from telephone poles, some of which were sparking and others were toppled by winds prior to the fire’s spread.

The Journal’s report has revealed that while Hawaiian Electric had acknowledged the risks posed by power-line fires in light of California’s recent wildfire incidents, the company had not allocated significant resources to address this issue. Instead, it focused on aligning with state mandates for renewable energy adoption.

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During this period, Hawaiian Electric had been undergoing a transition to renewable energy sources as mandated by the state. Since 2008, Hawaii has been striving to shift to renewables due to escalating oil prices, and in 2015, lawmakers mandated that the state derive 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045—a pioneering requirement in the United States.

The company’s plans to allocate nearly $200 million for wildfire mitigation measures on Maui were stalled due to bureaucratic hurdles. Meanwhile, it spent a mere $245,000 on these efforts. As the company directed its efforts toward climate goals, concerns over wildfire risks were sidelined, a decision that has now come under scrutiny as the state contends with the aftermath of the Maui fire.

This investigation serves as a reminder of the complexities and trade-offs faced by energy companies as they navigate the urgent need for climate action while also addressing immediate risks to public safety.

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