By Jeff King
It could have been one of the biggest business deals in Hawaii’s history. But with two votes – and one abstention – history of another kind was made in Honolulu today.
Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission today turned down NextEra Energy Inc.’s proposed $4.3 billion purchase of Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc.
The vote was 2-0 with PUC Chairman Randy Iwase and Commissioner Lorraine Akiba voting to reject the sale. Commissioner Tom Gorak abstained. PUC approval was needed for the companies to close the deal. Maui Electric Company, along with island-wide utilities on O’ahu and the Big Island have long awaited the decision.
So have leaders of the renewable energy industry across the state.
Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) operates and controls utilities on Maui, O’ahu and the Big Island.
Gov. David Ige commented, “I want to thank the Public Utilities Commission and stakeholders for their participation in this historic process. This ruling gives us a chance to reset and refocus on our goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The proceeding helped define the characteristics and parameters of Hawaii’s preferred energy future. We look forward to creating a process to find the best partner in the world.
“No matter who owns the company, the energy vision for Hawai‘i remains very clear – 100 percent renewable energy with a transformation to a customer-centered utility focusing on smart meters, smart grid, distributed local solutions, and as much consumer choice as possible.”
NextEra, based in Juno Beach, Florida, announced in December 2014 its plan to run Hawaii’s largest utility which provides power to 95 percent of Hawaii residents. The original plan called for HEI’s bank subsidiary, American Savings Bank, to be spun off and run as a stand-alone company.
NextEra conducted a 19-month campaign to win approval of the deal. NextEra argued it was a better alternative for Hawaii because it could offer lower rates and a quicker path to the state’s goal of achieving 100 percent renewable electricity production. NextEra promised to lower electric bills — the highest in the nation — by about $70 a year over the next five years and to not lay off employees for two years.
Opponents of the sale — including Governor Ige, environmental groups and solar power companies — argued the state’s largest utility should not be run by company based in Florida, which would view Hawaii as a small part of its operations. They also questioned NextEra’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy, especially in light of its plan to convert power plants to liquefied natural gas and the small amount of rooftop solar in use in Florida.
Parties involved in the case could file a motion with the PUC for reconsideration or file a motion to appeal the PUC decision with the Hawaii Supreme Court.
The PUC’s decision came just weeks after Ige changed the makeup of the three-member commission. On June 29, Ige appointed Tom Gorak, PUC chief counsel, to take the place of outgoing Commissioner Michael Champley. Ige said Gorak’s views were more aligned with Ige’s. State senators have questioned whether Ige had the authority to make that change without the approval of the senate.
KAHULUI – Maui Electric Company is warning customers about an increased number of reports of telephone scams to utility customers. Recently, business customers have reported receiving telephone calls saying that their electric bill is delinquent and that they’re subject to same-day disconnection.
The businesses were also directed to pay their utility bills by purchasing certain types of money vouchers, such as a prepaid MoneyPak card or Moneygram. Prepaid cards and Moneygram are not acceptable methods of paying electric bills.
West Maui motorists will encounter a traffic headache this morning. Late last night a vehicle took out a utility pole along Honoapi’ilani Highway in Lahaina. As a result, the highway is closed to traffic between Papalaua and Hinau Roads.
Maui Electric crews have been on scene since shortly after the mishap. They expect to complete their work by 10 a.m today. No details of the accident have been reported.
KAHULUI – Maui Electric Company and Kā‘anapali Golf Course’s 7th Annual Keiki Tilapia Fishing Tournament, held on Sunday, September 27, raised more than $19,000 benefiting the Maui United Way. The annual event lured more than 2,000 attendees – including the 600 keiki, ages two to 18, who cast their fishing poles in hopes of catching the largest tilapia or “special catch of the day” at the Kā‘anapali Golf Course Pond during this “tag and release” event.
UPDATE: Maui Electric reports power has been restored to the Haleakala Crater area as of 5 a.m. today.
Maui Electric Company would like to inform the public that the Haleakala Crater area is experiencing a power outage. Maui Electric is working to identify the cause and restore electrical service as quickly and safely as possible.
An update will be provided as soon as more information becomes available. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
Earlier today customers in the Napili area of West Maui were without power for about two hours.
Shortly before noon on Saturday, a metallic (mylar) balloon drifted into Maui Electric power lines on Namauu Place in Kihei, tripping both the transmission and distribution lines in this area. As a result, approximately 6,000 customers in parts of Kihei experienced loss of electrical service and power surges.
Maui Electric transferred affected customers to alternate circuits, restoring power at 12:20 p.m. to most customers as crews worked to replace damaged equipment.
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