If the proposed $4.3 billion sale of Hawaii’s electric utility to NextEra Energy is rejected by regulators — or if the Florida-based buyer decides to walk away over costs or regulatory obstacles — what will happen next?

Who is best suited to running the electric system?

Such questions are being asked and, occasionally, answered on the outer islands. Kauai has long had its own energy cooperative. Prominent residents of the Big Island have formed the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative in the hopes they will one day be able to purchase Hawaiian Electric Light Co, if there is, at some point, a willing seller.

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa has expressed interest in replacing Maui Electric with a municipal utility.

The county that has been largely absent from such discussions was Honolulu. Until now.

University of Hawaii at Manoa foreground with Diamond Head in background. HECO. HEI. Hawaiian Electric. TILT SHIFT LENS USED. 28 nov 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Honolulu is joining other counties in exploring publicly owned alternatives to the electric utility. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Thanks to a resolution Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin introduced last July, the county will soon examine the idea of creating an alternative to Oahu’s power company.

Possibilities include municipal or cooperative public ownership of the power company.

The resolution is entitled, ”Declaring the Council’s Intent to Consider All Options Regarding the Provision of Electrical Service, Including The Investigation Of Electric Utility Public Ownership On The Island Of Oahu.”

A proposal for public ownership would face opposition from Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

The County Council Committee on Executive Matters and Legal Affairs, which includes all nine members of the City Council, is scheduled to take up the resolution Tuesday at 1 p.m. That committee’s chair, Trevor Ozawa, did not respond to a request for comment.

Resolution 15-214 signals “the Council’s intent to consider all options regarding the provision of electric service.”

The resolution notes that Hawaii has the highest retail electricity rates in the country and that the Public Utilities Commission has confirmed the new paradigm “where the best path to lower electricity costs includes an aggressive pursuit of new clean energy sources” in the islands.

It also highlights the potential financial risks to Hawaii of NextEra’s reliance on nuclear power and natural gas in Florida.

Public testimony, in written or oral form, is welcome at the hearing.

People who want to speak will have a one-minute limit and are asked to register here. In addition, online testimony can be filed here.

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