Rebounding quickly from the Senate’s rejection of his last pick, Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced Friday that he has appointed Jay Griffin to serve on an interim basis on the three-member Public Utilities Commission.

Griffin currently works for the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute. He previously served as chief of policy and research for the commission, where he led staff and consultant teams in analyzing state energy policy decisions, according to the governor’s office.

Jay Griffin was appointed to serve on the Public Utilities Commission. Courtesy: Governor's Office

PUC Chair Randy Iwase said he was grateful to the governor for appointing someone of Griffin’s calibre in a timely manner to the commission, which has broad responsibilities that range from shaping the state’s energy future to regulating transportation and telecommunications.

”He was a major contributor to all the major initiatives that we have,” Iwase said. “He’s going to bring a depth of knowledge not only in the subject matters but also the history of what has occurred within these areas. It will help us immensely.”

Griffin will fill the seat left vacant by Tom Gorak. He had been serving on an interim basis as well but the Senate voted last month against confirming him to a full term.

The Senate has been tussling with the governor over his PUC appointments since June when Ige replaced Commissioner Mike Champley with Gorak just days before the commission was expected to decide the biggest utility merger case in the state’s history.

PUC Chair Randy Iwase NBC2
Public Utilities Commission Chair Randy Iwase welcomed Jay Griffin back to the commission. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Champley had spent the previous 18 months working on the docket — the proposed $4.3 billion buyout of Hawaiian Electric Industries by Florida-based NextEra Energy — before he was pulled. The change was made after the Legislature had adjourned, which effectively bypassed for the time being the Senate confirmation process.

Gorak, who had been serving as the commission’s chief counsel, recused himself from the 2-0 vote in July to reject the NextEra deal.

Senators said they did not oppose Gorak for his qualifications — many agreed he was extremely qualified — but they took issue with how he came to hold the position and said the constitutional authority of the Senate to advise and consent was at stake.

The Senate’s 2017 legislative session ended earlier this month. Senators could come back in a special session to take up the appointment or wait until their next regular session begins in January.

Iwase said the PUC has many major issues to handle, including electric rate cases and renewable energy projects.

“They’re going to take a lot of work,” he said, adding that Griffin will be a great asset.

Ige said in a statement that he was excited to find a talented individual who has “demonstrated expertise and is aligned with our commitment to a 100 percent clean energy future.”

Griffin thanked the governor for the opportunity to return to the PUC and said he looked forward to working with Iwase and the commission.

The interim appointment begins June 5.

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