By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A Keaukaha man says he plans to continue to protest Hawaii Electric Light Co. online and on the street after chaining himself to the utility’s Hilo office door earlier this month.
With a handful of fliers and his daughter videotaping, Wade Kalili sat himself in a chair outside the building’s lobby on Sept. 12 with a chain around his waist and locked himself to the handle of one of the two glass front doors.
Kalili, 57, said he was protesting years of being overcharged by HELCO. He believes he is owed thousands of dollars because of a faulty meter.
The protest was fairly short, lasting about 20 minutes before a police officer cut the chain.
But it wasn’t the first time Kalili had protested his bills.
In 2009, he began holding large signs airing his grievances outside HELCO’s office on Kilauea Avenue.
He was back there again on Wednesday with enlarged copies of his electrical bills to show to passing motorists, some of whom honked their horns.
Kalili said the response to the video has been overwhelming, adding it is giving him hope.
“I couldn’t sleep for years,” he said.
“They ruined my life. I couldn’t do nothing.”
The video, which includes him talking with HELCO President Jay Ignacio and another employee, has earned him a growing following of fans since being posted last Friday.
As of Wednesday, the video had been viewed over 2,800 times, and his Facebook page, on which he goes by the name “Helco Prisoner,” has over 240 friends and is accumulating comments from other frustrated utility customers cheering him on.
“Thank you sir for standing up for all of us whose voices are not heard against a multi-billion dollar, monopolizing PUBLIC UTILITY,” wrote Page Frommer Kaohu on Facebook.
“Mahalo Uncle for making a stand and speaking out,” wrote Melanie King on YouTube.
Kalili said he didn’t realize so many people “hate HELCO.”
“It’s like a big joke to them,” he said, referring to the utility’s response to his complaint. “But now they are not laughing.”
Kalili said he began to be overcharged in 2004 when his bills started rising between $1,000 and $1,600 a month. He said he lives in a three-bedroom house with four people, including himself, and uses a gas water heater and gas range for his stove.
Kalili said he complained but didn’t see anything done until 2009 when his meter was replaced.
He said his bill dropped significantly but claimed HELCO removed it a few months later.
Kalili said he had stopped paying his bill because he wanted answers as to why the bill changed. He said HELCO told him they were removing the meter because it wasn’t safe.
After being disconnected, he said he hooked up to his son’s power across the street.
The bill for both houses is less, Kalili said, than what he used to be charged by HELCO.
He believes he still needs to be reimbursed for the alleged overcharges, which caused him to sell a trailer, tools and jewelry to cover the cost.
Kalili, who owns a contracting business, said his home electrical bills also caused him to lose an art store he ran in Honomu because he no longer had the capital to keep it running.
“They ruined me,” he said.
In an email, HELCO Administration Manager Rhea Lee said the utility couldn’t comment on a customer’s billing history due to privacy concerns.
But she said HELCO is willing to work with him to address his complaint.
“Our representatives met with Mr. Kalili when he arrived at our Hilo office and listened respectfully to his concerns,” Lee said. “We later met with him for further discussion and are willing to work with him to address any remaining issues.”
Kalili said he hasn’t gotten any help from HELCO and tried to get an attorney to take it to court but couldn’t find anyone to take the case.
“They said, ‘They are too powerful. We can’t take on HELCO,’” he said he was told.
Kalili said HELCO had offered to meet with him again but he hasn’t scheduled it yet. He said he wanted to wait until after the video gained some traction, adding he may set something up for next week.
Kalili said he does expect HELCO to give him some compensation, even if it takes more time.
“They have to,” he said.
“I’ll just keep the pressure on.
“What they don’t want is the attention.”
His video can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAdNRykTwhQ.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.