More than 40 state and county lawmakers united Thursday in a commitment to explore the potential of public utilities in Hawaii.

Their announcement comes as the Public Utilities Commission considers approving the proposed $4.3 billion sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries to Florida-based NextEra Energy.

HEI owns Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu; Maui Electric Co., which serves Maui, Lanai and Molokai; and Hawaii Electric Light Co. on the Big Island. Kauai, the only county now not powered by an HEI subsidiary, gets its energy from Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

Representative Beth Fukumoto Chang and other public officials from all islands making statements on the future of electric utilities in Hawaii. 3 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang stands next to Rep. Chris Lee as Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin and other state and county lawmakers look on, Thursday, at the Capitol.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Public utilities don’t need higher rates to make profits for shareholders, and as a result they tend to have significantly lower rates than for-profit utilities across the country,” state Rep. Chris Lee, who heads the House Energy and Environment Committee said at a news conference in the Capitol.

He was flanked by 20 other lawmakers who support looking at fundamentally changing the monopoly for-profit utility model that has served Hawaii for the past 100 years.

Among the supporters was Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin, who said the county will be the biggest consumer of electricity in the state, even surpassing the military. Council members Ikaika Anderson and Kymberly Pine joined him.

House Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang, along with fellow Republican Rep. Cynthia Thielen, also said the public utility option needs to be explored.

“As Republicans and Democrats, we have differences,” Fukumoto said. “But we can all agree that the skyrocketing cost of electricity is detrimental to local familites. Until NextEra provides a framework for customer savings, it would be irresponsible not to explore options like co-ops and other alternatives.”

Blogger Henry Curtis guestions Rep Chris Lee after public officials from all islands made statements on the future of electric utilities in Hawaii at press conference held at the Capitol. 3 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Henry Curtis, an intervenor in the NextEra-HEI merger case, talks to Rep. Chris Lee after public officials from all islands made statements on the future of electric utilities in Hawaii, Thursday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

NextEra has said the merger deal would result in nearly $1 billion in savings, with $500 million of that benefitting the state economy and $465 million in customer savings. But company officials have said with the volatility of oil they can’t guarantee that customer bills will drop from where they’re at today, among the highest rates in the country.

Big Island and Maui had already been talking about peeling away from HEI and each creating their own public utilities, similar to Kauai.

Martin authored a resolution in July, which the council will be considering soon, that calls on Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration to examine the potential of Oahu creating a utility co-op.

Lee said the Legislature has the sole rights to dispense the utility franchise. He sees the lawmakers as critical in setting direction for the utility, whether it’s a public model or for-profit.

Earlier this year, the state passed a law that sets a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

“Is there a possibility for a better path forward? That’s the bottom line,” Lee said, especially if it can save residents a lot more money in the long run.

The next step, he said, is finding an independent third party to do a legal and financial analysis of a public utility option.

Here’s the full list of lawmakers who support looking into the public option:

  • Oahu Rep. Chris Lee, Chair, Energy and Environmental Protection Committee
  • Oahu Rep. Della Au Belatti
  • Oahu Rep. and Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto-Chang
  • Oahu Rep. Matt LoPresti
  • Oahu Rep. Cynthia Thielen
  • Oahu Rep. Tom Brower
  • Oahu Rep. Takashi Ohno
  • Oahu Rep. Lauren Matsumoto
  • Oahu Rep. Bert Kobayashi
  • Oahu Rep. Feki Pouha
  • Oahu Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole
  • Big Island Rep. Nicole Lowen
  • Big Island Rep. Cindy Evans
  • Big Island Rep. Mark Nakashima
  • Big Island Rep. Richard Creagan
  • Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing
  • Maui Rep. Lynn DeCoite
  • Kauai Rep. Dee Morikawa
  • Maui Rep. Justin Woodson
  • Oahu Sen. Glenn Wakai
  • Oahu Sen. Gil Riviere
  • Oahu Sen. Laura Thielen
  • Oahu Sen. Mike Gabbard
  • Oahu Sen. Maile Shimabukuro
  • Big Island Sen. Gil Kahele
  • Big Island Sen. Josh Green
  • Big Island Sen. Russell Ruderman
  • Oahu Council Chair Ernie Martin
  • Oahu Councilmember Ikaika Anderson
  • Oahu Councilmember Kym Pine
  • Oahu Councilmember Trevor Ozawa
  • Maui Councilmember Don Guzman, Energy Chair
  • Big Island Council Chair Dru Kanuha
  • Big Island Councilmember Margaret Willie, Energy Chair
  • Big Island Councilmember Karen Eoff
  • Big Island Councilmember Greggor Illagan
  • Big Island Councilmember Maile David
  • Kauai Council Chair Mel Rapozo
  • Kauai Councilmember Gary Hooser
  • Kauai Councilmember Ross Kagawa
  • Kauai Councilmember Mason Chock

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