One day after NextEra Energy and Hawaiian Electric Industries abandoned their efforts to merge, leading foes of the deal gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday, partly to say they were right all along.

The coalition of intervenors in the Public Utilities Commission docket, legislators and renewable-energy organizations also said Hawaiian Electric must now change its approach to charting the state’s energy future and work more collaboratively with others.

The people of Hawaii, said Rep. Chris Lee, a Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, want “buy-in” on decisions going forward and want to ensure that HEI not lose sight of the state’s mandate of attaining 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2045.

Hawaii’s largest utility “has to change and adapt,” Lee said.

Rep Chris Lee stands with HECO Nexterra merger intervenors at the Capitol. 19 july 2016
Rep. Chris Lee stands with other lawmakers and intervenors in the recently rejected NextEra-Hawaiian Electric merger at the Capitol Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, the House minority leader, said the PUC’s decision last week showed the NextEra-HEI merger was not in the best interest of the public. She added that constituents complain to her frequently about the high cost of electricity.

All stakeholders need to be involved on any new proposal regarding HEI, she said, and the proposal must benefit rather than burden consumers.

PUC Audit Sought

On Monday, Gov. David Ige said there are other suitors for Hawaiian Electric, which produces power for three of the state’s four counties. That prompted the utility to issue a press release Tuesday afternoon saying it “is not currently in discussions with any other party regarding a business combination and does not intend to initiate any such discussions.”

Earlier Tuesday, Hawaiian Electric announced it has withdrawn its applications with the PUC for approval of a liquefied natural gas contract — something that was opposed by Ige and many other critics of the now-defunct NextEra deal.

Regardless of whether another potential buyer of Hawaiian Electric emerges, the coalition wants to make sure that development of a smart grid and distributed energy generation remain priorities for the utility.

A smart grid is a digital electrical network that measures energy use and efficiency. Distributed energy refers to storing power closer to service areas (with the help of a smart grid) rather than having to transmit it over long distances.

HECO intervenor Representatives Capitol presser. L-R, Rep Au Belatti, Rep Bert Kobayashi, Rep Lauren Matsumoto, Rep Cynthia Thielen, Rep Beth Fukumoto Chang and right, Rep Mark Nakashima during HECO intervenor presser held at the Capitol. 19 july 2016
Lawmakers at the Tuesday press conference included, from left, Reps. Della Au Belatti, Bert Kobayashi, Lauren Matsumoto, Cynthia Thielen, Beth Fukumoto Chang and Mark Nakashima. At far right is Robert Harris, public policy director of the solar energy group Sunrun. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

There is also the possibility of different models for the utility, such as the public cooperative operated in Kauai County and discussed in Hawaii County, a municipal operation that has been talked about for Maui County, or an independent system operator. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission defines an ISO “as one way for existing tight power pools to satisfy the requirement of providing non-discriminatory access to transmission.”

State Rep. Della Au Belatti called for an audit of the Public Utilities Commission.

Concerns have also been raised about the recent replacement of PUC Commissioner Mike Champley with Tom Gorak, a decision that Ige insisted as recently as Monday was made on solid legal ground.

Ultimately, however, the main takeaway from the NextEra defeat was that engagement with the community is the key component of any decision when it comes to energy in Hawaii.

“Everyone wants a say,” said Lee.

About the Author