By Jeff King
NextEra Energy has proposed buying Hawaiian Electric Industries were 4.3 billion dollars including 1.7 billion of debt for a net sale of 2.6 billion.
The monumental – not to mention historic – deal would not only put Hawaii’s energy future into the hands of a company on the opposite side of America – but nuclear power now becomes an option in the islands.
If the acquisition goes through some utility policies will change. NextEra Energy, owner of Florida Power and Light (FPL), is North America’s largest intermittent electricity (solar/wind) producer and the third top nuclear energy producer.
NextEra Energy subsidiary NextEra Energy Hawaii (NEEH) has big plans to build solar and wind generation facilities and the inter-island transmission line. Native Hawaiian and ocean stewards have fought that plan for years.
“The NextEra Energy Hawaii team is committed to corporate responsibility and accountability – it’s the right thing to do and is an integral part of our culture. We hold ourselves to high environmental standards . by continuing our efforts to preserve water, land and wildlife. . In addition, the company has earned a reputation as a leader in the protection of threatened and endangered species.”
NextEra consultant Dawn N. S. Chang (Ku`iwalu) spoke at the Waianae Neighborhood Board and the Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board. NextEra wants to build a 75 acre solar farm in Waianae. O’ahu area residents have resisted that proposals for years as well.
Governor Abercrombie mentioned only one company transaction in his 2014 State of the State. Abercrombie suggested that NextEra would acquire Dole Food Co. property in Central Oahu. NextEra proposed using the land for agriculture and renewableenergy.
NextEra bought the 4-acre vacant lot located between Costco, Home Depot, Lowe’s and the Dole Cannery in Iwilei. The former Gasco facility could become the Oahu AC-DC Converter Station for the proposed Inter-island Transmission Line.
Joseph (“Joe”) Timothy Kelliher is NextEra Energy’s Executive Vice President- Federal Regulatory Affairs. Kelliher was Republican Counsel for the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee (1995 – 2000), served on the Bush/Cheney Presidential Transition Team (2000-01) and served as the Senior Policy Advisor for the U.S. Department of Energy (2001 – 2003).
In 2003 Vice President Dick Cheney spearheaded the drive to get Kelliher appointed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). He served six years including four as Chair.
“During the appointment process there were charges that he enjoyed too cozy a relationship with industry lobbyists and had, as a member of Vice President Richard Cheney’s energy task force, helped write President Bush’s National Energy Policy in such a way that would be financially beneficial to energy companies at the expense of consumers.”
Mr.Kelliher was ‘put in place’ by the electrical industry to head FERC when they thought they could ram dozens of long distance, high voltage transmission lines through state siting processes using their new 2005 Energy Policy Act. .Mr. Kelliher, true to the revolving door practices that seem to govern federal regulation in the US at this time, is now the chief lobbyist for a company called NextEra, the largest developer of land based wind farms.”
A provision in the Energy Policy Act (2005) “gives the U.S. Department of Energy the authority to study and designate national energy corridors as ‘severely congested.’ It also gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an agency that
regulates interstate energy projects, so-called ‘backstop authority’ to permit projects in those corridors if a state has withheld approval for more than one year. The provision hasn’t fast-tracked permitting of the most crucial projects, as supporters had hoped.”
NextEra Energy drew up a plan to fast-track the federal transmission line permitting process. The Obama administration, the National Resources Defense Council and many energy developers embraced the plan.
Many states, regional organizations, environmental and cultural groups greeted with the plan with skepticism. Senator Mazie K. Hirono today released the following statement on the announcement by Hawaiian Electric Industries and NextEra Energy.
“Today’s announcement is profound and historic for Hawaii. Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. (HEI) is well established in this community and the decision to combine with NextEra Energy, Inc. and spin off ASB Hawaii deserves careful scrutiny on behalf of Hawaii consumers and residents. I look forward to meeting with HEI and NextEra leaders to hear how Hawaii can lead in clean energy and protect the interests of the customer.”
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa added, “Hopefully NextEra is willing to take on the challenges that prevented HEI from accepting more renewable power, namely, upgrading its aging infrastructure. Some of their generators are from the World War II era. That has to change if we’re ever going to use more renewables. People aren’t just power users anymore, anyone with solar panels is now a power producer and our utility needs to be able to evolve as our community evolves.”
Maui County Energy Commissioner Doug McLeod said that NextEra showed a willingness to meet with the environmental community about a proposed undersea cable between Maui and Oahu, and answer questions about whether the project would impact the whale population.
“They co-sponsored that cable event with Maui Tomorrow, not every utility would have done that,” McLeod said. “Also on the mainland they are known as one of the largest owner and operators of wind farms.
Their approach seems to be more progressive than what we have seen from Hawaiian Electric in the past.”
(Dick Mayer and Henry Curtis contributed to this article)