New leadership: Maui Electric Co.’s president will also oversee HELCO as Jay Ignacio retires

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Jay Ignacio, president of Hawaii Electric Light Co. and Sharon Suzuki, president of Maui Electric Co., stand together Thursday outside of the HELCO office in Hilo.

Hawaiian Electric is appointing one person to lead its Hawaii Island and Maui subsidiaries as the private power utility seeks to consolidate administrative positions.

Sharon Suzuki, president of Maui Electric Co., also will oversee Hawaii Electric Light Co. effective Feb. 2, when HELCO President Jay Ignacio retires. However, the subsidiaries will remain separate entities under their parent, Hawaiian Electric.

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“What the customer sees is not really going to change that much in terms of day-to-day operations,” said Jim Kelly, Hawaiian Electric vice president of corporate relations. “But the leadership will be changing.”

Ignacio, who joined HELCO in 1990 and was promoted to president in 2008, said the parent company and its subsidiaries have been moving closer together operationally for the past few years.

“The major operational groups are all reporting to Hawaiian Electric vice presidents and getting direction that way,” he said.

“That kind of relieves some of the day-to-day operational responsibilities for the island president.”

In a press release, Hawaiian Electric referred to the new dual leadership position as part of its “One Company” transformation strategy.

As it moves in that direction, Ignacio said a focus of the island presidents has been to do more community outreach.

Suzuki, who has been president of Maui Electric since 2012, said that will remain a focus. She plans to be on Hawaii Island at least two days a week.

“Jay built a strong team,” Suzuki said. “And I want to build on that and make sure it continues to meet the needs of the community.”

She has worked for Hawaiian Electric and Maui Electric for a combined 25 years. Past roles include overseeing customer service and energy efficiency.

Maui Electric serves the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

While HELCO operates on one island, Suzuki said it also services unique communities that may have different needs or views.

She will take the reins as both utilities pursue solar-plus-storage projects to increase their supply of renewable energy.

HELCO took a hit on that front when the 38-megawatt Puna Geothermal Venture went offline last year due to the Kilauea eruption.

About 28 percent of HELCO’s power is currently from renewable sources.

That’s down from about 60 percent prior to the eruption, Ignacio said.

Ormat, PGV’s owner, is taking steps to bring the plant back online, though when that could occur remains unclear.

HELCO has increased production at two of its petroleum power plants as well as from independent power producer Hamakua Energy Partners to make up the difference.

“We still have adequate margins,” Ignacio said, referring to the difference between demand and production. “But the loss of PGV does add to some of the challenges.”

Hu Honua Bioenergy plans to bring its 21.5-megawatt biomass power plant under construction near Pepeekeo online at the end of March after missing a deadline at the end of 2018 to receive about $100 million in federal tax credits.

Ignacio said missing that deadline will not affect rates or their power purchase agreement.

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Warren Lee, Hu Honua president, said the company might still be able to apply for the credits, but it’s not a sure thing.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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