Hawaii’s DoBOR Apparently Seeks to Skim Profits in Electrical Billing Scheme – Latest Public Harbor Fee Increase Proposal

13-234-10 - Near-1000% Electrical Fee Increases Legally and Ethically Troubling


DLNR/DoBOR’s latest version of the proposal to raise fees in Hawaii’s public harbors, Statewide, is seeking something close to a 1000% increase in electrical flat-rate fees for harbor tenants who are not paying Hawaiian Electric directly for their electrical consumption.

This fee will be charged REGARDLESS of usage and will amount to $40/month for non-liveaboard tenants, and $100/month for liveaboards.

For those not acquainted with how average boaters use electricity in our public harbors, and how they are charged for that usage, here is a little primer: 

There are two categories of tenants in are public harbor system, the liveaboard tenant, and the non-liveaboard tenant.  There are two categories of electrical users in our harbor system:  tenants who pay HECO directly for their electrical consumption, and those who use completely unmetered State-supplied electricity.  Why has the State supplied electricity never been metered?  Short answer, a paperwork convenience for the State.  State's official answer: it was too expensive to do that. 

Reality: since 1994, the State of Hawaii's public harbors administrator, DLNR/DoBOR, has barely paid attention to tenant electrical revenue and, as such, has lost untold thousands of dollars in deficit electrical costs. In short, it would have been far cheaper to have just put in metering for each slip not metered by HECO.  The State had two chances to do this (1975 and 2010), but whiffed it on both occasions.   To this day, DoBOR still does not know the usage debit created by electrical users in the public harbor system, Statewide.  

Ignorance seems to beget more of it:  DoBOR's solution?  Charge users a 1000% increase over current flat-rate fees.   1000% means the guy who uses his boat once a month and doesn't plug into his electrical outlet will now owe the State $40 per month for electricity he never uses.  It means that the liveaboard tenant that is running mostly off of solar power, has no major appliances, and lives on a 25-foot boat (the inside of which is smaller than a walk-in closet), will now pay the same $100/mo as the family of four on the 50-foot trawler (the size of a condo). 

We have a mutual friend in Kailua, Oahu, with a million+ dollar home that pays $80 per month (including the $17 monthly hook-up fee) for electricity to HECO, for all of their electrical needs.  And, no, he doesn't have solar panels on his roof.

Please see this article for more on the lack of responsible rationale for flat-rate electrical charges in Hawaii's public harbor system.

This latest version of Chapter 13-234 will allow for tenants to opt out of using the electricity at their dock altogether, something that was missing in the last version.  The stipulation written into the rules package is that if they catch you, even once, using electricity at your pier, after you’ve opted out, they will begin charging you $40/$100 per month from that day on, REGARDLESS OF ACTUAL USAGE.

So what this means is that if you happen to need to use a drill for a few minutes and one of the harbor agents sees you, you will find, on your next billing, and every billing thereafter, a charge for the new 1000% increase amount.  No opting out after that!

This section of the 13-234 document is still teaming with legal and ethical problems, as are other sections of the document.

For example, Ed Underwood can’t seem to come up with a basis-in-fact for the $40/$100 flat rate numbers themselves.  He said that DoBOR did a study “. . . a while back. . .” in an attempt to determine average usage in the AWSBH, but when we asked him for a copy of this, he promptly told us that he’d shredded the study paperwork.   He then cited a suspiciously nebulous “appraisal” by a Mr. Oshiro.  When we asked for that, it too was unavailable.

Troubling, too, is that tenants caught up in this scheme are being asked to pay for, not only personal consumption, but also the dock infrastructure electrical usage as well, something that, by long established accounting practice, is deducted from general revenues as part of marina maintenance costs.  Those tenants paying HECO directly do NOT pay for marina electrical costs, but only for their own personal consumption.

Another problem was the lapse in time, 1994 to the present: why hasn’t DoBOR been raising the rates incrementally, at least every five years? A simple thing, perhaps, but an indicator of the bigger picture, the slip-shod way in which the DLNR/DoBOR has been administering our public harbor system for decades: none of the public harbor financials that have been presented to the public make much sense, as was pointed out to and by legislators during the recent legislative review and then deferral of SB1257.

Another problem with the $40/$100 numbers is that they do not reflect the true increase in electrical rates since 1994, the date that Underwood cites as the last time rates were established.  These latter rates reflect a nearly 1000% increase over 1994 figures, but, in actual fact, electrical rates in Hawaii have only increased by 133% over that period of time:

1994 = avg. 12.4 cents per KWH

2019 = avg. 28 cents per KWH (Oahu)

The increase of 133% clearly indicates that the fee should be $25.63/month for liveaboards, and $13.40 for non-liveaboards., and so, we’re not sure where Underwood got the near-1000% numbers from.  It doesn’t sound like he’s sure either.  But even these numbers make little sense because of the huge variation in the consumption patterns of smaller vs. larger vessels.  Surely, a 40-foot vessel with four persons living aboard will consume considerably more electricity than a lone liveaboard on a 26-foot vessel.

Because of this, a system of assessing vessels according to the major appliances being used on board and then charging accordingly is the only fair and just way to charge non-HECO tenants for electrical usage.

At the end of a recent Hawaii Ocean News survey in which we spoke to harbor tenants on the floating piers at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor (AWSBH), nearly 80% said that they would “opt out” of the new electrical fee requirement and “take their chances,” potentially creating a loss in electrical revenues and exponential legal/enforcement headaches for an already compromised DOCARE, now short of officers and facing an investigation by the Attorney General’s office.  We were told that a court challenge may also be in the works should the rule pass as written now.

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