House committee advances HEI-NextEra measures

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A state House committee signed off Tuesday on a series of resolutions related to the pending $4.3 billion sale of Hawaiian Electric Company to Florida-based NextEra Energy.

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A state House committee signed off Tuesday on a series of resolutions related to the pending $4.3 billion sale of Hawaiian Electric Company to Florida-based NextEra Energy.

Rep. Cindy Evans, D-Kona, serves on the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection and was among those voting in favor of all three measures.

She said the purpose of the resolutions was to send a strong message to the Public Utilities Commission that it needs to exercise due diligence to make sure the acquisition is in the best interest of the public.

“It’s kind of like, ‘Please be cautious, please do your homework and remember, Public Utilities Commission, you’re looking out for the people,’” she said. “I think it’s just a really strong message from policymakers that we are hearing from constituents that they have some concerns.”

Evans added that she expects the pending sale to be a big issue during the coming year, and that now is the time for people to get involved.

“I think it’s a big change, it’s a big shift. I mean (Hawaii Electric) has been around for 100 years,” she said.

House Resolution 158 and its companion, House Concurrent Resolution 227, were introduced by Rep. Chris Lee of Oahu and request that the PUC protect the public interest in reviewing the proposed acquisition. It tasks the PUC with determining whether NextEra is likely to act in the long-term best interests of Hawaii ratepayers, as well as if the transaction is in the long-term public interest, including the state’s ability to achieve its renewable energy goals, according to the document.

By an 8-0 vote, the Energy and Environmental Protection committee recommended HR 159 and HCR 227 be passed with amendments. Two members were excused and did not vote.

“I think everybody can agree that we need to be extremely cautious,” Lee said by phone following the hearing. “There’s been a lot of concerns raised about how NextEra does business and how it infiltrates politics.”

The resolutions, he said, are about ensuring community concerns are addressed.

HCR 9, which requests the PUC conduct a public hearing on the approval of the sale of HEI, also received support from EEP, which voted 8-0 that the measure be passed unamended. Rep. Calvin Say of Oahu voted with reservations, and two other members were excused.

Four of Hawaii Island’s seven representatives, including Rep. Mark Nakashima, D-Hilo, co-introduced HCR 9. Nakashima said one of his concerns is that NextEra coming in could end up looking a lot like Hawaii’s hotel industry — owned by multinational corporations that make decisions about Hawaii from outside the state.

“Decisions that are made, I don’t want to be done just on the bottom line,” he said.

In written testimony, PUC Chairman Randy Iwase said the commission intends to provide members of the public an opportunity to address the commission during upcoming public listening sessions conducted on each of the islands served by Hawaiian Electric Company.

Finally, the Energy and Environmental Protection committee voted unanimously in favor of HR 105 and HCR 169. Introduced by Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-Kailua-Kona, both express support of further discussion on efforts to facilitate local ownership and control of electric utilities and local generation of electricity. Two committee members were excused.

Last month, the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative, a nonprofit group of Big Island community and business leaders, filed a motion with the state PUC to intervene in the pending sale of HEI to NextEra in order explore the idea of public ownership, similar to Kauai Island Utility Cooperative on Kauai.

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By press time Tuesday, the resolutions had not yet been scheduled for additional hearings.

Email Chris D’Angelo at cdangelo@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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