NextEra sweetens deal for HECO customers in buyout - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

NextEra sweetens deal for HECO customers in buyout

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

NextEra Energy Inc. plans to expand Hawaiian Electric Co.'s smart meter pilot project to nearly all of its 450,000 customers in Hawaii.

That's a key highlight of the Florida company's latest filing, in which NextEra promises 50 new conditions or benefits for consumers as part of its $4.3 billion buyout of HECO. NextEra said the deal will save consumers nearly half a billion dollars over the next five years.

"Hawaii has some of the highest bills in the nation, arguably the highest electric bills in the nation. We believe we can partner with Hawaiian Electric in helping lower those costs for customers," said Robert Gould, vice president and chief communications officer for NextEra.

Smart meter advocates say the high-tech devices improve reliability and provide customers with more control over their costs. These meters, which use FM signals to send data back and forth between the customer and the utility, provide residents with their up-to-the minute information about energy consumption so that consumers can adjust their energy usage accordingly.

But worries about costs and health risks from electromagnetic radiation have prompted consumer opposition on Kauai and parts pf the Mainland such as Marin County in California.

Gould said studies have shown that smart meters are much safer than cell phones or microwave ovens. They also provide for more reliable service since they can help detect outages immediately, which saves money.

"At the end of the day, it's about putting advanced smart grid technology for the benefit of the utility and the customer," Gould said.

NextEra previously provided about 35 conditions or benefits for consumers and business as part of its buyout offer. Today, it added 50 more conditions to address critics of the buyout, which include Gov. David Ige and state Consumer Advocate Jeffrey Ono.

Many of those benefits addressed concerns over the loss of local control of Hawaii's largest company. NextEra said Hawaiian Electric's management will be given the authority to make decisions on deals $20 million or less. The company will also expand its corporate givings to about $2.2 million a year for the next 10 years.

But critics said that NextEra still hasn't provide enough information on the deal.

"We would hope the PUC would dismiss the case that they simply haven't produced enough hard facts to move forward," said Henry Curtis, director of Life of the Land.

"Life of the Land still believes that it is a very bad deal for consumers."

NextEra's Gould said that's inaccurate.

"That's really unfair. We have been filing responses after responses, some 40,000 pages of responses to intervenor questions and concerns," he said.

Over the next two months, the state Public Utilities Commission will hold public meetings on all islands. Formal hearings are scheduled in November.

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