Groups want PUC to hold off on approving HECO sale - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Groups want PUC to hold off on approving HECO sale

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A coalition of environmental and clean energy groups called on the Public Utilities Commission Wednesday to decide on the electric company's clean energy plan before deciding whether to approve the sale of HECO to a mainland company.

The PUC is still deciding whether to approve various plans submitted by HECO such as improving its power supply and connecting rooftop solar systems with the rest of the electric grid.

More than a dozen groups, including the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said those issues need to be settled before the PUC evaluates whether HECO should be sold to Florida-based NextEra Energy.

"We want to make sure that the public's interests are first and foremost before looking at the financial interests of any one or two companies," said Jeff Mikulina, the CEO of the Blue Planet Foundation, a clean energy advocacy group. "It's almost akin to purchasing a piece of real estate or property without knowing what the zoning is. And this is sort of clarifying here's what we expect on that property and here's what the plan says."

Robert Harris, a spokesman for the Alliance for Solar Choice, said his group is also calling on the PUC to decide the energy plans before considering the HECO sale.

"We need to know where Hawaii's headed. We need to have a clear plan before we start considering a merger and potentially letting a company from the mainland dictate to Hawaii what's going to happen," Harris said. "To understand what is in the public interest, we actually have to know where we're headed, right? And then we need to be able to apply that and say, 'Can this company take us there?'”

NextEra Energy wants to buy HECO for $4.3 billion, but the advocacy groups said the sale should not be rushed.

"We are making some big decisions in how we power our homes and businesses in the future in Hawaii,” Mikulina said. “We think we need to resolve those questions before we make a decision about who the ultimate owner of the company is."

Another seven community groups, including Life of the Land, Puna Pono Alliance and Friends of Lanai have filed a separate petition with the PUC, also asking for a decision on energy plans before the PUC considers HECO's sale.

Those groups also want the PUC to create a document to guide the public and utilities involved in a potential sale.

"There's no guidance document that the Public Utilities Commission has for determining whether a merger is good or bad," said Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land.

HECO released a statement reacting to the petitions filed Wednesday.

"We agree that it's vital to keep moving forward with plans to achieve the clean energy future that we all want for Hawaii," said Lynne Unemori, Hawaiian Electric vice president of corporate relations.

"Joining with NextEra Energy can provide resources to help accelerate that transformation. It makes sense for all of these important actions to proceed so we can provide benefits to our customers as quickly as possible," Unemori said.

A spokeswoman for the PUC said the agency was reviewing the petitions but declined comment.

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