Public hearing set for DWS power cost charge hike

KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaii County Water Board is proposing an increase to its power cost charge and will hold a public hearing on the matter later this month.

Board members and DWS officials will meet March 27 at the Department of Water Supply on Leilani Street in Hilo. Though the official meeting isn’t scheduled to begin until 10 a.m., the board will open the floor at 9:45 a.m. for public comment on the price hike.

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“If the public wants to raise any concerns, they have the opportunity,” said Warren Ching, DWS energy management analyst.

The increase would drive the current power charge cost up 26 cents from $1.62 per 1,000 gallons of water to $1.88 per 1,000 gallons. If approved, the change will take effect on April 1.

Based on West Hawaii Today research, the average family in Hawaii using a 5/8-inch meter consumed around 9,500 gallons monthly in 2015.

That figure is in line with numbers from the United States Geological Survey, which estimates the average person uses 80-100 gallons of water daily. A family of four, then, would use between 9,600-12,000 gallons monthly based on USGS research.

According to those numbers, if the increase is approved the standard price bump for water usage in the average home in Hawaii would likely fall somewhere between $2.50-$3 monthly, equating to between $30-$36 annually.

The catalyst for the change, Ching said, is higher billings to DWS from Hawaii Electric Light Co. When HELCO’s fuel costs increase, he said, that cost gets passed on to the water department.

Power cost charges fluctuate in both directions. Keith Okamoto, DWS manager-chief engineer, told board members Tuesday the last change to power costs was actually a decrease of 11 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The highest the uniform power charge cost has ever been is $2.38 per 1,000 gallons, according to numbers provided by Kawika Uyehara, DWS deputy. That rate persisted for six months, January-June 2009.

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The public is also invited to provide input on the departmental operating budget for fiscal year 2019 and the five-year CIP budget for fiscal years 2019-23. Those budgets are $53,864,000 and $96,200,000, respectively.

Public opportunity to offer testimony on budgetary issues will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the same meeting in Hilo on March 27.