Hawaii has a unique opportunity: It can be one of the leaders that the world and country look to when it comes to renewable energy implementation and distribution. Because of its seclusion, sustainability is more paramount here than almost anywhere else on earth.

NextEra is a multi-billion dollar company that would like to purchase Hawaiian Electric Industries ( Hawaiian Electric Company, Hawaii Electric Light Company and Maui Electric Company). T​his acquisition could bring a number of benefits to Hawaii, including adaptability to changing technologies (particularly solar), quicker development of new infrastructure and energy innovation.

NextEra has been consistent in its messaging. They cite these points, lay out a broad but non­specific plan, and then add a Hawaiian word or two. If you dig just a bit and know the facts, it’s clear that this merger as it stands is not good for Hawaii.

Connie Lau, President and CEO Hawaiian Electric Industries and Jim Robo Chairman and CEO, NEXTERA Energy, Inc. announce a merger with NEXTERA at suite 800, 1001 Bishop Street. Honolulu, Hawaii. 3 dec 2014. photograph by Cory Lum
Connie Lau, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries, and Jim Robo, chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, Inc., announce their proposed merger in a December 2014 news conference. Cory Lum / Civil Beat

Let’s focus on one of the most important issues: distributed generation. DG is simply a​n approach that employs small­scale technologies (like solar and wind) to produce electricity close to the place where it’s used. There are a plethora of benefits DG has over power plants or centralized power. These benefits are not only congruent with the state’s long term energy goal of 100 percent renewables by 2045 but beneficial to consumers and the utility.

The more DG on a grid, the less vulnerable and more reliable a grid will be. It is essentially decentralizing the power plant, sort of like diversifying your stock portfolio. Another useful analogy: tractor trailer vs. scooter. The truck is much more powerful but the scooter is versatile and nimble.

Countless studies, including one published in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Energy during the George W. Bush administration, demonstrate that the benefits of DG are overwhelming. Some of these include grid reliability, reduction in usage during peak power periods, ancillary services, improvement in quality of power, reduction in vulnerability to a terrorist attack or natural disaster, just to name a few. Not to mention huge savings and autonomy to the customer.

NextEra is pro solar and wind. However, a very important distinction that NextEra doesn’t mention when going around the state trying to sell this merger is that they are for renewable energy as long as NextEra owns and controls the power source. They will argue that they can build a multi­-megawatt solar farm and deliver electricity at much lower rates than if you put solar panels on your own home. And currently they can.

NextEra has continually blocked legislation in Florida, where it is the main utility, that would start to allow DG to be somewhat attainable.

Is this the goal? Wouldn’t it be a better strategy to maximize DG and then supplement with centralized power? Cheap short-term rates at the expense of our limited land and more uncertainty is short­sighted and purely profit­ driven.

NextEra has all but proven it is against DG. NextEra has continually blocked legislation in Florida, where it is the main utility, that would start to allow DG to be somewhat attainable.

A better solution would be to leverage the state’s access to low-­cost capital and create a real public utility, or publicly ­owned utility, or use the current one — HEI — and sub out the necessary work to a company like NextEra. A company that has the long-term best interests in mind, not just a bottom line.

When it comes down to it, NextEra is pro­-renewable as long as local businesses and homeowners do not own the power.

If NextEra were for DG, they would have said so by now. If they change their tune, they need to come up with a detailed, comprehensive plan. One that proves that they are in line with the best interests of the people of Hawaii by more than copying and pasting Wikipedia’s definition of “aloha” on a docket.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author