NextEra Energy and Hawaiian Electric Industries still support their proposed $4.3 billion merger agreement despite continued opposition from Gov. David Ige’s administration.

More than 50 new commitments in August failed to assuage the concerns of the state Consumer Advocate, Office of Planning and Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, according to their latest filings this week with the Public Utilities Commission.

Scott Hempling, on behalf of the Office of Planning, said the question isn’t whether Hawaiian Electric would be better off being owned by NextEra, but rather who’s most qualified to run the utilities.

Gov. David Ige's administration continues to oppose the NextEra-HEI merger deal.

Gov. David Ige’s administration continues to oppose the NextEra-HEI merger deal.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

“It is a minimalist standard, one that both relieves Applicants of the pressure typically faced by companies subject to competition, and denies customers all the benefits that would flow from that competition,” he said in his testimony Wednesday.

“It means that customer benefits can be marginal while shareholder gain can be massive — precisely what we have here, where customers are guaranteed rate savings of only $60 million while HEI shareholders are guaranteed stock valued at $568 million,” he said.

Gregg Kinkley, an attorney representing DBEDT, wrote in his testimony Wednesday that the additional commitments NextEra and HEI put forward in August in response to initial concerns from the administration are a “step in the right direction.”

However, he said many of the new commitments or modified ones “suffer from the same flaws that plagued the original proposals.” Specifically, he said the state energy administrator, Mark Glick, reviewed them and found that only eight of the 85 commitments constitute “meaningful commitments to provide benefits” — which is not “sufficient to meet the public interest standard.”

Rob Gould, speaking on behalf of NextEra and HEI, said Thursday that the companies remain committed to continuing to work to address any and all concerns.

“We appreciate input from all stakeholders and recognize that this is an ongoing, dynamic process,” he said in a statement, noting that they  believe that NextEra Energy is still the right partner for Hawaiian Electric to achieve Hawaii’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

“As the world’s largest producer of renewable energy from wind and sun, NextEra Energy will apply its extensive renewable energy expertise and resources to make this goal a reality, while lowering customers’ energy bills,” Gould said. “We remain committed to this merger and the benefits it will bring to customers, communities and the state of Hawaii.”

NextEra has estimated nearly $1 billion in benefits if the merger goes through, split almost evenly between a boost to the local economy and customer savings. But only $60 million in savings to customers over the first four years has been guaranteed.

Ige first came out in July against the proposed merger, saying as it was not in the public interest as it stood then. More than two months and dozens of new commitments later, the administration’s position is evidently unchanged, based on the filings this week.

Energy regulators are finishing up a seven-stop, six-island tour to hear what the public thinks about the plan to sell Hawaiian Electric Industries, whose three subsidiaries power the entire state except Kauai, to a Florida-based company 10 times its size.

Many members of the public have criticized the deal during the PUC’s stops on Maui and most recently the Big Island, where much of the talk focused on the need to scrap the investor-owned utility model altogether in favor of a customer-owned cooperative.

The PUC’s next listening session is Oct. 21 on Kauai, which would not be directly affected by the sale of Hawaiian Electric as the island’s electric utility system is run by a co-op. The last stop is Oct. 27 on Oahu.

The evidentiary hearing begins Nov. 30 at Blaisdell. It’s a trial-like process in which the three-member PUC will act as a judge deciding the case presented by the applicants and 28 intervenors, many of whom are motivated by their interests in rooftop solar.

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