State raises concerns about HECO setbacks for renewable energy projects

State raises concerns about setbacks for renewable power projects

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaiian Electric is responding to tough questions from its top state regulator about setbacks for several renewable energy projects.

Randy Iwase, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, said the agency is reviewing the actions of the Hawaiian Electric Companies.

Iwase is concerned about the cancellation of power-purchase agreements with SunEdison for three Oahu solar farms, an intent to terminate a biomass project agreement on the Big Island, the closing of negotiations for new geothermal generation, and slow approvals for rooftop solar systems on Molokai and other islands.

"We don't believe HECO has a right to terminate the PPA's so we're going to be sharing that information with the PUC, and hopefully this can all be sorted out," said Wren Wescoatt, SunEdison's director of development.

Wescoatt said work at the three solar farms started last fall. Crews began putting up poles and installing wiring at the Waipio facility. The company planned to hire up to 600 employees total.

A spokesman for Hawaiian Electric said the tough decision had to be made due to SunEdison's financial problems and failure to meet key deadlines. Iwase, however, wondered why a sale agreement with a group of buyers, including D.E. Shaw Group, wasn't enough to save the projects.

"Tell us why that buyer is not worthy when you have at least one of the projects moving where people were working, getting a paycheck, putting poles in the ground," questioned Iwase.

"It's about SunEdison's status. It's about the structure of how that financing was going to be put together. It was whether or not the financing was actually going to be delivered. There are a lot of things that went into it," explained Hawaiian Electric spokesman Darren Pai.

Pai said Hawaiian Electric is committed to reaching the state's goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045.

"We want to go out, get more projects in the ground, develop more renewable energy to replace this capacity because really it's all about trying to move forward," he said.

SunEdison is planning a PUC filing next week to ask for the reinstatement of the contract.

"You had, in effect, a cup half full or projects and what they've substituted now is a cup full only of promises and that's not acceptable," said Iwase.

Pai said the cancellation of the deal had nothing to do with Hawaiian Electric's pending sale to NextEra Energy.

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