A local startup company with mainland and Hawaii investor support is in the preliminary stages of making an offer to buy Hawaiian Electric Industries, the company that supplies power to 95 percent of Hawaii residents.
That’s according to Ted Peck, president of the new company, called Kuokoa Inc.. Peck steps down Friday as energy administrator for the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Peck told Civil Beat Kuokoa’s aim will be to significantly lower electricity costs for customers.
He formed the company with Big Island farmer Richard Ha — the new company’s chairman — and Roald Marth who will be CEO.
Peck said Kuokoa will be a “Hawaii-based, local equity” company with some mainland support. “We have a primary banker and two secondary bankers,” he said, but declined to provide a purchase price.
Hawaii has among the highest electricity costs in the country because of its heavy dependence on fossil fuel imports. Yet, the state is also said to have an abundance of mostly untapped renewable energy sources — solar, wind, geothermal, wave, biofuels and ocean-thermal.
Civil Beat has calls out to Hawaiian Electric Co., the HEI subsidiary that supplies Oahu’s power.
HEI also owns Big Island utility Hawaii Electric Light Company, Inc., and Maui Electric Company. HEI also provides financial services in the islands through American Savings Bank.
As of the close of trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange, HEI’s market capitalization was $2.25 billion. According to its website, the company “has a long dividend history, paying dividends continuously since 1901.” It pays a dividend of $1.24 per common share annually.
According to Pacific Business News, in 2010 HEI was the eighth-largest company in Hawaii with 3,500 employees. Its president is Constance Lau.
Peck said Kuokoa — Hawaiian for independence, liberty or freedom — wants to take HEI private and may consider a public offering at a later date.
But, Peck said, the company does not believe a publicly-traded company can help drive the state’s economy in the way that they believe is necessary.
“I and others have come to the conclusion that HEI needs an investor-owned arrangement,” he said.
Pono Shim of Enterprise Honolulu told Civil Beat he turned down an offer to be on Kuokoa’s founding board of directors in September. He was told that as a board member, he would receive one million shares valued at $1,000 apiece.
“Give me a break, who’s going to pay for that. It’s on the backs of the people of Hawaii,” he said.
Robbie Alm, HECO’s executive vice president, is chairman of Enterprise Honolulu.
Kuokoa’s website — at present, a single page — features this quote from Ha:
“We are embarking on a great journey, much like the ancient people who sailed to Hawaii hundreds of years ago. Like them, we are searching for a better tomorrow for our children, grandchildren and generations to come. We will find the place where the Aloha Spirit can thrive because we go with open hearts and minds.”
Ha, who sits on the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative steering committee, was mentioned multiple times by Neil Abercrombie as an example of enterprising local talent that can help the state move into self-sustainability — although Ha’s name was usually linked to food sustainability, not energy.
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