Updated 8:35 p.m., 11/5/2015

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission has been trying for over a year to get the electric utilities on Maui, Oahu and Big Island to each come up with a power supply improvement plan that can serve as a “strategic basis” for resource acquisition and system operation decisions.

In a new order issued Wednesday, the PUC said there are still “substantial concerns” and the proposals are unacceptable.

“Several shortcomings need to be addressed, including changes in modeling methods, assumptions and constraints; several aspects of the PSIPs require further analytical support; and several assumptions and objectives need to be updated to reflect recent’ changes in laws and other circumstances,” the PUC said in its order.

Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Chair Randy Iwase and left, Commissioner Lorraine Akiba, right Commissioner Michael Champley 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, center, Commissioner Lorraine Akiba, left, and Commissioner Michael Champley, right, listen to testimony at a recent public meeting on Oahu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The commission also used the nearly 200-page order to reject requests from 18 groups who wanted to intervene in the docket — including NextEra Energy, The Alliance for Solar Choice, non-profit energy groups and for-profit investment firms.

Instead, those groups were given “participant status.” As such, they can present analysis, testimony and statements of position, but not file motions concerning procedural and legal matters.

Only the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the counties of Maui and Hawaii were allowed to intervene.

NextEra said in PUC filings that it should have been allowed to intervene because the commission’s decision on power supply improvement plans may impact the company if it merges with the utilities — particularly its interest in developing, constructing and operating a Oahu-Maui interisland transmission system.

A NextEra representative declined to comment Thursday on the PUC order.

The Hawaii Solar Energy Association, which represents roughly 80 companies, said in PUC filings that it should have been allowed to intervene because the group is concerned about how the PUC’s order might affect the commercialization of renewable energy, and wants to make sure the rules governing distributed generation facilities are sustainable, fair and transparent.

The PUC said in the order that the state Consumer Advocate will represent the public interest and consumers.

The proceeding will focus on whether the PSIPs of the utilities identify strategies to “lower and stabilize customer bills,” to “integrate a diverse portfolio of cost-effective renewable energy projects,” and to “‘operate each island grid reliably and cost-effectively with substantial quantities of variable renewable energy resources,” the order says.

The other parties are expected to respond by Jan. 15.

Update Hawaiian Electric is continuing to review the decision.

“When we filed the Power Supply Improvement Plans in August 2014, we noted they were a good faith starting point for discussion,” said Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery of Hawaiian Electric, in a statement Thursday.

“We recognized that any plans with a long planning horizon would need to continue evolving and adapting in a rapidly changing energy environment. And our energy environment certainly has continued to develop since then,” he said.

“For example, the plans targeted 65 percent of our electricity use to be from renewable sources by 2030. Since those plans were filed, Hawaii has enacted a new law calling for a 100 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2045. Based on this and other developments, a review and update of the plans make sense, and this is what the PUC directed us to do,” Ching continued.

“We’re continuing to review the decision,” he said. “Our baseline goal is unchanged: We’re committed to achieving the goal of having Hawaii free of dependency on imported fossil fuel for electricity with greater energy self-sufficiency and sustainability at reasonable cost for our customers.”

The order also laid out a schedule for how the docket would move forward. The Hawaiian Electric companies have to file their initial statement of issues, preliminary responses to the PUC’s order and revised PSIP plans by Nov. 25.

Read the full order below, which includes more details on what concerns the PUC has with the proposed power supply improvement plans.

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