C. Dudley Pratt, Jr. passed away Wednesday at his Kailua home brings back a flood of memories gathered over nearly a decade in the 1980s while working for him. Hawaii’s renewable energy industry is in debt to the man. Here are some of those memories.
The Holding Company
Dudley Pratt’s arrival in the corner office marked an abrupt departure from HECO’s super-conservative past. Utility diversification had started on the mainland, and he foresaw the potential for oil price hikes and an era when HECO’s electric sales couldn’t keep up with the demand to continuously add value to shareholders.
Mr. Pratt’s public announcement of his intention to create the Hawaiian Electric Industries holding company came about one month after I joined the company as a direct report to him after serving as an aide to Congressman Cec Heftel. He wanted the company’s communications effort to keep pace with his ambitious plans and therefore had our office under his direct supervision, a circumstance that later was shown to have its drawbacks (discussed below).
Mr. Renewable Energy
One of the subsidiaries Mr. Pratt created early in his tenure as HEI’s chief executive was Hawaiian Electric Renewable Systems (HERS) to facilitate construction of a wind farm in the hills above Kahuku and the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore. A Department of Energy demonstration wind turbine had proven the viability of the wind regime there; one of the turbine’s blades still stands next to HECO’s Ward Avenue facility where Mr. Pratt had it installed. He launched HERS on a path to capture energy in the northeast trade winds by presiding over a rain-soaked and muddy groundbreaking and blessing of the land in February 1985.
Across Alenuihaha Channel on the Big Island, a small geothermal plant had been established in the Puna district. Mr. Pratt envisioned a grid linking Hawaii Island’s considerable geothermal resources – believed to be as much as 500 megawatts – with the other islands, including Oahu and its much higher power demand.
A deep-water direct-current cable would be the link, and Dillingham Construction Company, which was formed in Hawaii when the islands were still a kingdom, tested the feasibility of such a cable by accurately laying a small test line across the 6100-foot deep channel between the islands. The concept was abandoned in the 1990s due to widespread community opposition to large-scale geothermal development in the native forest. However, Mr. Pratt’s dream of creating a multi-island electric grid lives on.
Hurricanes and Other Moments
We reached Mr. Pratt in generator-lit Load Dispatch, where he was assessing damage to the system. About 95 percent of HECO’s customers were without power; only neighborhoods adjacent to the Waiau plant at Pearl Harbor were still being served. Our conversation lasted about 30 seconds. “The storm kicked the s--- out of the transmission system,” he said. “We’ve lost eight of our 138,000-KV lines.” He told corporate communications to “tell the public like it is,” the kind of guidance communicators want to hear.
The Personal Side
What Mr. Pratt lay upon the desk a generation ago is what is now in all HEI documents – and so is his idea for a logo to tie all the electric utilities together, a circle behind a graphic representation of all the state’s islands that's painted on thousands of utility trucks, signs, transformers and pieces of equipment. (Clarence Lee has written to note that green soon was replaced by Punahou blue.)
That was Dudley Pratt – a hands-on leader who implemented excellent ideas and a vision to benefit not only the companies he headed but all the people of Hawaii. He was in fact a keiki o ka aina – a child of the land, descendent of 19th century missionaries, who saw an honorable mission in electrifying the islands he loved and carving new paths to energy independence.