Dear Jim (Robo) and NextEra (aka Florida Power & Light):

So, Jim, it came as quite the shock recently to learn your company wants to take over our troubled little utilities.

In fact, I can’t find one person who saw this coming. One equity analyst told me he was “puzzled why NextEra would buy out a highly leveraged business that’s burning cash and facing major challenges, at least at this price: $4.3 billion. This was highly unexpected.” So kudos, Jim, on keeping it a big secret.

But now that the uau is out of the uluhe, what do we know about you, and more importantly, what should you know about us? I figured Florida — the Sunshine State — would have a lot in common with our also-sunny Aloha State.

Turns out, not so much.

hei heco hawaiian electric7. photograph by PF Bentley.

The sale of HECO may well lead to big changes in Hawaii.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

First, Florida has seven regulated utilities, sometimes known as the “FEECA” utilities, while here we only have two. As you probably know, Jim, one is a customer-owned co-op; you can’t have that one.

On the other hand, just as our Legislature was concerned with conservation and energy efficiency, Florida’s Legislature passed FEECA in part to “increase the development of demand-side renewable energy systems” and “encourage development of demand-side renewable energy resources.”

You went along for a while doing business as Florida Power & Light, or FPL, but on Nov. 25 you and the others persuaded Florida’s Public Service Commission to discontinue your solar pilots and reduce conservation goals set in 2009 to near zero.

You argued that after installing a whopping 4,000 PV systems in a customer base of 4.6 million, “FPL learns little from those pilots, other than confirming that people will rush to get in line for giveaways.”

The HECO Companies, on the other hand, serve only 394,910 residential customers, yet over 44,000 of us have already installed rooftop PV; as of last July, there were another 8,000 customers in line. Since your rebates were not the state-sponsored tax credits we enjoy here in Hawaii nei, I can understand why you wanted to get out from under them.

In exchange, you made vague promises of future “utility-scale” solar. But as parties to the docket Walmart and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy pointed out, utility-scale solar is really on the supply-side, and not demand at all. But I’m sure you knew that. The Southern Alliance called the utilities’ proposals “shocking.”

The question is, do you want to help us continue down the path to island-by-island energy independence, along with embracing the new and improved, decentralized utility business model the PUC has endorsed, or are you taking over Hawaiian Electric to bring this all to a screeching halt?

Reaction in Florida was swift: two PSC Commissioners dissented from this move, and it appears the good people of Florida were pretty irate; they filed hundreds of complaints. Here’s my fave:

“I am grateful on this thanksgiving weekend that the PSC has agreed with the lobbyists and large energy monopolies to give them everything they asked for in their sincere effort to protect us from the evils of renewable energy and conservation. I am also thankful that we are not moving in the direction of the lefty, hippie, liberal bastion of Georgia who now has almost 5 times more solar production than the great ‘Not So Sunshiney’ state of Florida.

In unity with your decision and the power companies, I will promptly turn on all my electrical appliances and crank the AC with the door open — because it is apparently in my best interest.

Regards, Dave D.”

And now two Tampa Bay lawmakers are calling for an overhaul of Florida’s PSC. Imagine that!

I have to admit FPL and the HECO Companies have one thing in common: you both fiercely protect your shareholders and revenue streams by diverting as much risk as you can onto ratepayers. Why, just this month Hawaii’s PUC imposed a new, non-bypassable fee on all of us to secure low-interest loans for those with bad credit and low income so they can install PV, at no risk to the utility. Even those who already paid for their PV systems will now pay again for PV for others. You must have been positively giddy, Jim, to see virtually no one here in Hawaii paid any attention to the GEMS fee.

Beyond Florida, here’s what I learned about your company:

  • You paid a $2.5 million settlement in 2010 for thousands of bird kills by your Altamont wind turbines in California. This was one of the very few penalties imposed on a company like yours, Jim, and you need to know we have lots of endangered flora and fauna here in Hawaii, not to mention protected sea creatures.
  • Last year in Ontario, unhappy with being parodied as “Next Terror” and “Next Error” by a 32-year-old mother of two who was upset over a planned Big Wind project near her home, you slapped Esther Wrightman with a SLAPP suit (“strategic lawsuit against public participation”) claiming that she was a competitor because she sought donations.   I hear she’s moving as a result. You will be happy to learn that Hawaii passed anti-SLAPP provisions in 2001, so you can save a few pennies on legal fees here in the Aloha State.

Meanwhile, you’ve sure been busy back in our islands. Your NextEra Energy Hawaii told the PUC last year that it has already spent a pile of money chasing a cable between Maui and Oahu, and to hurry up and let you build it; for reasons not entirely clear you intervened in the Castle & Cooke Lanai wind docket; Neil let slip in his State of the State address (see video at minute 26:11) that you wanted the state to buy Dole lands on Oahu so you could put in (something) utility-scale, although “NextEra” instantly disappeared from the official text; and you just filed for approval of a PPA for 15 MW of industrial solar in Waianae. Think you would make out better buying and selling power to and from yourself, Jim? Think: Kahe Solar.

The news source “Utility Dive” thinks you might use us as a guinea pig. After all, some say we are the only state where solar plus storage is cost-competitive with the grid. The question is, do you want to help us continue down the path to island-by-island energy independence, along with embracing the new and improved, decentralized utility business model the PUC has endorsed, or are you taking over Hawaiian Electric to bring this all to a screeching halt?

I will let you go for now, Jim, but I see on Dec. 7, 2014, you told Richard Borreca and Star-Advertiser staff that when it comes to the undersea cable, “We haven’t decided yet.” This is troubling, Jim, as Hawaii’s energy landscape is littered with failed attempts by mega-corporations to decide what’s best for us, without asking us first. We Hawaii residents like to be included in any conversation that impacts us, our islands and our resources. Just ask Robbie Alm and billionaire David Murdock what happens when community is ignored.

So we all clear on that, Jim? Sure hope so, because this is not Florida, and the good people of I Aloha Molokai and Friends of Lanai — just two of Hawaii’s many thriving environmental alliances — can energize in a nano-second.

And unlike Esther Wrightman, we’re not moving. Imagine that.

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