Gas prices hitting hard in Hawaii : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Gas prices hitting hard on the Big Island

By Jason Armstrong


Skyrocketing fuel prices will mean Hawaii Electric Light Co.'s typical residential customer now will pay an extra $10 more a month for power, a HELCO official said last week.

"We're dependent on gasoline prices just like everybody else," said Curtis Beck, HELCO commercial account manager.

"Fuel has really gone up," he said. "It's hurting all of us, no question about it."

HELCO and other public power producers have state Public Utilities Commission approval to pass higher fuel costs on to consumers in the form of an energy-adjustment charge, PUC Director Paul Shigenaga said.

HELCO, which relies on diesel and "heavy fuel" to generate more than half of the electricity used by its customers, is now billing an extra 1.7 cents per kilowatt hour to pay for its higher fuel costs, Beck said.

"It's a straight pass-through," he said, adding HELCO provided a slight energy-adjustment discount in September when fuel prices were relatively low.

A typical household using 600 kilowatts of electricity per month is being charged an extra $10.20 because of the higher fuel prices," Beck said.

"I think that we can expect to see over the next three to four months that (fuel) prices are going to remain high," Beck said.

He noted that customers concerned with higher electricity costs might want to consider switching to electric water heaters that qualify for financial incentives offered by HELCO.

That option, however, is not available to the Big Island's transportation-related businesses, many of whom are wishing the island- rather than their wallets - would shrink.

Gasoline prices that have jumped more than 20 cents a gallon in recent weeks have reminded some of the gas shortages and price increases of the mid-1970s.

"We're constantly hunting for the cheapest gas price, which right now is running $1.89 a gallon (for the medium grade)," said a taxi driver for Ace One Taxi who cited her name as "Pretty."

Working solely on commission and having to pay all fuel costs, Pretty said she must now spend an extra $5 a day for gasoline to power a full-size luxury taxicab. If the cost rises much more, she said she will have to look for another job.

"It's a strong possibility," she said. "Prices keep going up, but our pay stays the same."

She noted that the Hawaii County Council determines what rates Big Island taxicab operators may charge.

Albert Shiotsuka, vice president of operations for Kona Transportation Co. Inc., said the islandwide company is using profits to pay for higher fuel costs to run its fleet of about 50 trucks.

"There's not much we can do," he said.

Trucking companies must obtain state PUC approval to charge higher shipping prices, Shiotsuka said, adding an organization that represents many of the island's shipping companies will seek permission to add a fuel surcharge.

"What a lot of people don't realize is that fuel prices can increase (the cost of) everything," said Tom Brown, transportation specialist for Hawaii County's Mass Transit Agency, which runs the Hele-On bus service. "I can see the cost of living going up."

Brown said the county is not considering increasing bus fares because contracts with fuel suppliers have shielded the county against a sizable price increase.

"We've been very lucky," said Walter Lucas, the county's automotive superintendent in charge of fuel purchases. "It's been pretty much stable."

This week, for example, the price of the county's diesel is just 0.02 cents per gallon more than last week's price, Lucas added.

That protection from rapidly increasing fuel prices has not extended to fishermen, who rely on diesel and gasoline to power their boats.

"It's gonna kill us if it keeps going up," said fisherman Stephen Jacober, who added he cannot charge more money for his catch to offset his higher fuel costs.

"We stay out longer," fisherman Louis Bolos said when asked how he is coping with fueling up his boat, which burns 12 gallons of gas per hour. Bolos added that he now spends less time trolling in order to conserve fuel, which lasts longer when the boat is running fast.

Douglas DePonte, a Maui fisherman who was in Hilo Tuesday preparing to return to sea, said he paid $1.13 a gallon for diesel fuel on Maui that was delivered to him, but was charged $1.70 a gallon for diesel fuel he had to pick up himself in Hilo.

"It's a big increase, but there's nothing we can do about it. We don't get any better prices on the fish or shrimp we're putting out," DePonte said. "Everybody's grumbling."

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-- Ain't Gonna Happen (Not Here, April 06, 2000

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