The proposal for a Florida company to acquire Hawaii’s largest electric utility does not sit well with most Hawaii voters.

And, when it comes to state government officials being capable of making a sound decision on the merger, people also don’t think state regulators have their interest at heart, according to a new Civil Beat Poll.

NextEra Energy’s $4.3 billion plan to merge with Hawaiian Electric Industries is opposed by 52 percent of those surveyed by Civil Beat.

And nearly two-thirds of Hawaii voters don’t have much confidence that the three-member Public Utilities Commission will put public interest ahead of pressure from politicians and business interests when they ultimately rule on the merger.

Energy issues in Hawaii -- especially the push for renewables -- are generating strong sentiment from many quarters.
Energy issues in Hawaii — especially the push for renewables — are generating strong sentiment from many quarters. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The new poll results, which measure voter confidence on key issues and top leaders, come as the PUC resumed on Monday its public deliberations on the merger.

The latest round is scheduled to go until Feb. 10, and the PUC has indicated that it might make its ruling sometime this summer.

The poll is news that probably won’t be welcomed by NextEra.

“People don’t trust them,” said Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted The Civil Beat Poll. “They don’t trust mergers, they don’t trust utility companies, they don’t trust mainland companies coming to do business in Hawaii. And here you have all three happening at once.”

Electricity NextEra HECO

Only 16 percent of voters surveyed support the NextEra deal while fully one-third say it doesn’t matter to them.

HEI supplies power everywhere in the state except on Kauai, and the NextEra-HEI deal has prompted intense discussions that have played out statewide in community meetings, advertising and public relations.

Civil Beat surveyed 922 registered voters statewide Jan. 26-29. The poll, which sampled 70 percent landlines versus 30 percent cellphones, has a margin of error of 3.2 percent.

According to the new data, voter opposition to NextEra is consistent across a number of demographic groups including by gender, race and ethnicity, island location, political leanings and income levels.

Florida NextEra HECO

“Young, old, man, woman, liberal, conservative — it’s across the board,” said Fitch. “The only tiny thing I saw was that, when it came to the question of ‘Do you trust the PUC to do the right thing,’ people on the neighbor islands were significantly less likely to trust state government.”

As well, Filipinos are less likely to oppose the merger while people over 50 oppose it in larger numbers than those under that age.

No surprise on another metric, however: Nearly 60 percent of Kauai voters don’t care either way, likely explained by the fact that Garden Islanders have a consumer-owned utility.

Full disclosure: Merriman River Group has been the election administrator for the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative board elections since 2009.

Doubts That Rates Will Drop

PUC Chair Randy Iwase has said he will make his decision based on the merits of the case and not heed the media and PR blitzes pro and con, but voters have their suspicions.

Exactly two-thirds, meanwhile, said a NextEra-HEI merger would increase electricity rates a decade from now.

But voters were more divided on whether a merger would speed up, slow down or have no affect on Hawaii’s move toward a 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2045.

PUC pressure NextEra HECO

Liberals were more likely than moderates and conservatives to think it would be slower.

Finally, 61 percent said they were concerned that NextEra is based in a state on the other side of the country.

Mainland ownership, future rate increases and progress on renewable energy have been at the heart of criticism of NextEra’s proposed merger, something the company has aggressively sought to counter.

Coming Thursday: Do people have confidence that state and local officials can effectively address homelessness?

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