Responding to criticism over transparency, the state Public Utilities Commission now plans to post online the transcripts of the upcoming evidentiary hearing on the proposed $4.3 billion sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries to NextEra Energy.

But not until it issues a final decision on the case, which isn’t expected until next summer.

The trial-like hearing starts Nov. 30 at Blaisdell Center. The hearing is scheduled to go for 12 days, but PUC Chair Randy Iwase said it could take longer.

Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Chair Randy Iwase and Lorraine Akiba listen to public testimony at McKinley HS on the proposed NextEra Energy/Hawaiian Electric Industries merger. 27 oct 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Chair Randy Iwase gestures during a public hearing last month on the NextEra-Hawaiian Electric Industries merger. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The PUC first indicated transcripts would only be available through purchase from the court reporter assigned to the hearing. That drew sharp criticism from Sierra Club, Friends of Lanai and others intervening in the high-profile case. 

Honolulu-based Ralph Rosenburg Court Reporters is expected to provide the transcript service for the hearing. Ralph Rosenburg says next-day or possibly same-day transcripts will be available for $3 a page.

Each day of the hearing is set to run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., which Rosenburg estimates translates to about 250 pages a day in transcript form, depending on how the hearing goes.

That’d put the cost of 12 days worth of transcripts at $9,000, which nonprofits and others said would be too costly for them to afford.

“To allow an undisclosed ‘agreement’ with for-profit court reporters to supersede the interests of Hawaii’s residents and utility customers in following the proceedings would be an unfortunate decision, unbecoming of a ‘public agency’ in dealing with a public document,” Robin Kaye of Friends of Lanai wrote in a Nov. 10 letter to the commission.

The PUC’s decision will appease some of the critics who said they can understand the commission needing extra time to post the documents online since it would be intently focused on the hearing. But other groups had wanted the PUC to post the transcripts online each day in the commission’s docket management system.

Iwase has said the PUC doesn’t have the time or resources to post the transcripts online each day.

The PUC said Wednesday in its pre-hearing conference order that it will also retain an official copy of the transcript that may be viewed at the commission’s office and copied pursuant to the commission’s regular copy charges.

Contrary to the objections raised by Friends of Lanai, Sierra Club and others, the PUC said this arrangement does not deprive them or the general public from meaningful participation in the hearing.

The PUC also noted that it has approved media coverage of the hearing and that Olelo Community Television plans to stream it live.

“This will allow any interested person to follow and record the evidentiary hearing without incurring the cost of purchasing a transcript from the court reporter.

Read the PUC’s prehearing conference order below.

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