Merge them, already! That’s my message to the Public Utilities Commission on the proposed merger between NextEra Energy and Hawaiian Electric.

I come to this conclusion because the process set up by the PUC has revealed that our actual problems are the ideas and politics around electricity production in Hawaii.

It drew together special interests and the especially interested in a unified body shouting “No!” through 60,000 pages of testimony and hearings.

Officially this is supposed to be about whether or not the merger “is in the best interests of the people in Hawaii.”

Wouldn’t the “public” be mostly interested in low electricity rates and less pollution?

Apparently not, because these are issues that have been left out of the whole process.

Hawaiian Electric power plant in Pearl City. 22 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Hawaiian Electric’s power plant in Pearl City. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

Look at what the stated concerns are.

One example, from rooftop solar advocates, is that NextEra opposed rooftop solar legislation in Florida.

Another example was Gov. David Ige’s demand that NextEra pledge allegiance to 100 percent renewable.

The governor also adds: “no natural gas.” Which can be translated into, we will continue to burn oil through 2045.

Comparing Florida Power and Light, a NextEra subsidiary, with HECO is revealing.

In terms of green house gas emissions, the EPA reports that HECO, in pounds per megawatt, produces 350 percent more nitrous oxide, 400 percent more sulfur dioxide and 140 percent more carbon dioxide than FPL.

During 2014 our electricity rates were 34 cents per kilowatt hour while Florida Power and Light’s were 7 cents; FPL’s rates had declined by 10 percent over the past few years; and FPL was going to ask for another rate decrease in 2015.

Our discussion is so fixated on renewables it excludes discussion of how much pollution will actually be mitigated.

The main difference between HECO and FPL is that the latter has replaced oil (and some coal) with natural gas in its electricity production.

The simplest way to reduce both prices, and pollution, (natural gas) has been ruled out so somehow we’ll reach 100 percent renewables in 2045.

John Maynard Keynes once said, “In the long run we are all dead.” So the happy day (2045) will arrive when baby boomers will be close to the century mark.

Summarizing another argument: NextEra is an out-of-state company that’s going to ship all its profits and good-paying union jobs to Florida.

In the real world, Hawaii 2015, the bulk of HECO’s revenues are flowing upwards and outwards to Hawaiian Electric shareholders as dividends; to oil companies; to large out-of-state corporations operating power plants under purchase power contracts; and to the rooftop solar industry.

Electricity production is being farmed out to large out-of state-corporations that build “purchase power agreement” plants here and operate them non-union.

The rooftop solar industry is even worse.

So, here and now, good union jobs are being replaced with low paid non-union labor.

In testimony concerning the merger, the Consumer Advocate has called for speeding up this process, shutting down six unionized HECO plants.

These purchase power agreement plants, which include renewable energy plants, sell power to HECO at rates pegged to HECO’s oil-fired plants. And HECO passes these outrageous prices on to us ratepayers.

So our current system has rates 250 percent higher than the national average. Lower income residents devote disproportionally more of their incomes to paying electric bills. It’s redistributing income upwards. It’s heavily polluting our environment. And it’s lowering the wages and labor standards of workers.

This is the status quo that is being defended by the political coalition opposed to the merger.

This has to change.

And the easiest way it can begin to change is if the PUC asserts its independence from the politics that has created this. Which as a first step means the PUC approves the merger and alters the status quo.

The next steps lie in making the PUC more independent and returning it to old cost-based regulatory practices. Which includes more utility owned and operated power plants, both renewable and natural gas.

NextEra is already producing renewable power here, and plans to produce more. The merger could mean it would be utility owned, and regulated.

Substitute real metrics for what are now political slogans. For example: Greenhouse gas emissions shall be at the national average and our rates shall be 200 percent of the national average in five years.

Merging, not merging, or even community ownership, won’t change the basic political power relationships that exist. We need to change those, and that means people’s minds have to be changed.

It will be a lot easier for people to actually change their minds after the merger happens.

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