Florida-based NextEra Energy has until Friday to walk away from their $4.3 billion merger deal with Hawaiian Electric Industries without paying a $90 million termination fee and up to $5 million in related expenses.

Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Chair Randy Iwase has said he and his two fellow commissioners won’t be rushed into making a decision on the proposed buyout, and there was no indication that their order would come down this week.

In an interview last Friday, Hawaiian Electric Co. officials showed no sign that they’d be walking away from the deal. Meanwhile, NextEra wasn’t talking.

HECO VP for Corporate Relations Lynne T. Unemori1. 27 may 2016
HECO Vice President for Corporate Relations Lynne Unemori at a Civil Beat Editorial Board meeting last Friday. She said it’s a “misconception” that the merger deal expires Friday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Lynne Unemori, HECO vice president of corporate relations, said the two companies don’t have to agree to an extension to keep the deal alive while waiting for regulatory approval.

“This is behind the misconception that everything somehow expires June 3 when really it can continue on,” she said. “If nobody does anything, it just continues on. You don’t have to affirmatively extend.”

HECO President and CEO Alan Oshima said there’s been no communication with NextEra about the walk-away date. He was very matter of fact when briefly discussing it last week during a meeting with the Civil Beat Editorial Board.

“If nobody does anything, it just continues on.” — Lynne Unemori, HECO vice president

When asked his thoughts about the June 3 date, Oshima’s first response was, “Is it really next Friday?”

“We’ll be watching our emails to see if something comes out,” he said.

NextEra spokesman Rob Gould declined to comment Tuesday.

If NextEra decides to walk away after Friday and ends up having to pay the $95 million to HEI, Oshima said it would be up to the company’s board of directors to decide what to do with the money.

There’s been concern that it might go to shareholders instead of going back to customers or just staying with the company for other uses.

Oshima wouldn’t speculate. “In the end, it may be a process,” he said.

HECO president Alan Oshima at Editorial board mtg portrait4. 27 may 2016.
HECO President and CEO Alan Oshima, center, discusses energy issues as Ron Cox, vice president of power supply, right, and Colton Ching, vice president of energy delivery, listen. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

HEI and NextEra first submitted their change-of-control application to state utility regulators in January 2015.

The ensuing 17 months have been filled with public campaigns for and against the merger, occasionally heated public hearings and a weeks-long evidentiary hearing before the PUC that wrapped up March 1.

The past two months have been mostly quiet as state regulators sift through the transcripts from the quasi-judicial evidentiary process and more than 80,000 pages that have been filed in the PUC docket for the case.

Iwase initially projected having a decision by June, but has since said his best guess is sometime this summer.

The PUC can reject the deal outright, approve it as proposed or sign off on it with certain conditions — the last option being the outcome many industry insiders expect.

HEI and NextEra can accept the commissioners’ decision, ask them to reconsider it or challenge it in court. 

Governor David Ige legislature presser1. 4 may 2016
Gov. David Ige has steadfastly opposed NextEra buying Hawaiian Electric and the two companies’ plans to import liquefied natural gas. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Officials from both companies have maintained that the deal is in the public’s interest. They have pointed at a promise of $60 million in customer savings over four years and the ability to expedite plans to ween the state off imported oil due to NextEra’s expertise in renewable energy and greater buying power. NextEra has reported revenues of roughly $17 billion.

Their arguments have not persuaded Gov. David Ige, Consumer Advocate Jeff Ono, top state energy officials or roughly two dozen nonprofits and other groups that intervened in the merger case.

Ige has doubts about the companies’ commitment to the state mandate of achieving 100 percent of its electricity use from renewable sources by 2045. And he has opposed their plans to use liquefied natural gas as a bridge fuel.

“We have to do what we think is best for our customers.” — Alan Oshima, HECO president

Hawaiian Electric announced last month that it has negotiated a huge deal with Fortis to import liquefied natural gas from Canada that could mean slightly lower utility bills.

HEI owns Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light, which collectively provide power to 457,800 residential customers on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and the Big Island.

The PUC would still have to approve the liquefied natural gas plan and the governor controls the permitting process, making it an uphill battle. Still, Hawaiian Electric officials remain committed to the proposal.

“We have to do what we think is best for our customers,” Oshima said.

Hawaiian Electric and Fortis officials had met with the governor before last month’s liquefied natural gas announcement, but were unable to change his mind, Oshima said, adding that he’s hoping this new proposal alleviates some of Ige’s earlier concerns, including safety.

Oshima said Ige was worried about how the gas would get to the power plants. Under the latest proposal, the company would use International Standards Organization containers that Oshima said are safer than anything already being trucked around the islands.

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