Less than a month after Gov. David Ige said he was against NextEra Energy Inc.'s buyout of Hawaiian Electric, the state Consumer Advocate is also saying no to the deal.
Until now, most of the opposition has come from green energy advocates who fear that Hawaiian Electric won't be able to reach its goal of being 100 percent independent of fossil fuels. But in his filing Monday, Consumer Advocate Jeffrey Ono questioned whether the deal will save consumers money and whether it might add new costs for ratepayers.
"NextEra's faulty calculations effectively overstate the potential benefits of the proposed merger, thereby creating an illusory benefit." said Ono.
Ono said NextEra touts millions of dollars in savings from operating and maintenance expenses but the company doesn't provide ample explanation as to how those savings will be achieved.
"I think NextEra has hidden the ball here," added Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter. "They have been vague in their answers and they haven't demonstrated how they can serve the public's interest."
Hawaiian Electric says NextEra's deep pockets and energy expertise will help HECO meet its clean energy goals "We strongly believe … that this partnership with NextEra Energy is in the best interests of our customers and Hawaii's future," said HECO President Alan Oshima.
Hawaiian Electric has until the end of the month to file its response with the state Public Utilities Commission. After that, the PUC will hold public meetings around the state in September and October before deciding the matter next spring.
To be sure, some critics believe the Consumer Advocate is too favorable to the deal. As part of its 548-page filing, Ono listed dozens of conditions such as rolling back rates and barring the company from passing on the merger cost to consumers. "Basically, the Consumer Advocate said here's how you can fix up the plan in order to get it approved," said Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land.
"The Consumer Advocate could have issued a slam dunk.They could have said 28 groups have come out against it, we're also against it and that would have put the entire thing to bed."