Sierra Club, Friends of Lanai and other groups are calling on the state Public Utilities Commission to post online the transcripts of the upcoming 12-day evidentiary hearing on the proposed $4.3 billion sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries to NextEra Energy.

The PUC issued a recommended order last week saying that any party in the case that wants transcripts of the hearing must make arrangements directly with the court reporter to buy them. That includes any requests for same-day transcripts.

That order rankled parties in the case who said it disadvantages small nonprofits: They said they can’t afford to fly in from the neighbor islands to attend the hearing,  which starts Nov. 30 at Blaisdell Center in Honolulu. Nor, they said, can they afford to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in copying costs for transcripts.

Territorial Office Building, home of the Public Utilities Commission offices. PUC. 10 nov 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The Public Utilities Commission said as of Friday, it does not plan to post online the transcripts of the NextEra-HEI hearing, which starts Nov. 30. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

“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.

PUC Chair Randy Iwase said in a phone interview Friday that the commission doesn’t have the time or resources to post the transcripts online each day in the commission’s docket management system, where all the other records in the case are available to the public. He said it’s possible that the transcripts will be posted online sometime after the hearing, but he made no guarantees.

“That’s not something we’ve kicked around at this point,” he said, adding that the transcripts might be made available for people to view at the commission’s office in Honolulu.

The PUC has posted the transcripts online in previous dockets, as intervenors in the NextEra case pointed out.

“If any case would favor, and even necessitate, such public access to the transcripts, it would be this one, which is indisputably the most monumental in the Commission’s history.”– Earthjustice attorneys Isaac Moriwake and Kylie Wager

“If any case would favor, and even necessitate, such public access to the transcripts, it would be this one, which is indisputably the most monumental in the Commission’s history,” Earthjustice attorneys Isaac Moriwake and Kylie Wager, representing Sierra Club, wrote in a Nov. 10 letter to the commission

“The recommended arrangement regarding transcripts disproportionately disadvantages non-profit interests with far less resources than Applicants,” they wrote. “It also does not serve the general public, many of whom have taken broad interest in this case.”

Blue Planet, the state Office of Planning, Hawaii Renewable Energy Alliance and The Gas Company have filed statements backing Sierra Club’s position.

Richard Wallsgrove, Blue Planet program director, said the group also echoes Friends of Lanai’s request that the hearing transcripts be made publicly accessible,. He called on the commission to make a rough daily transcript available as well, to promote transparency.

Iwase wasn’t sure how much the transcripts might end up costing, but said they would be available on an expedited basis.

Sally Kaye, of Friends of Lanai, said she called commissions around the country and found that public access to transcripts varies by state. In North Carolina, she said, the records are easily accessible, and other states, like California, provide a hardship provision to help individuals or groups with limited funds access them.

Kaye said she can understand the PUC denying daily transcripts but can’t fathom the agency never posting the documents online.

The owner of Honolulu-based Ralph Rosenburg Court Reporters Inc. couldn’t be reached Friday.

The evidentiary hearing, a trial-like process, is expected to last 12 days but may be extended if necessary. A decision on the merger isn’t expected until next summer.

Read the filings that Sierra Club and Friends of Lanai submitted in response to the PUC’s recommended order below.

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