Governor's pick for PUC proves controversial

Governor's pick for PUC proves controversial
(Image: Governor's office)
(Image: Governor's office)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige's nomination of Thomas Gorak as the new third Public Utilities commissioner is a blatant attempt to kill NextEra Energy's plans to take over Hawaiian Electric Co., a former PUC chairwoman says.

"What the governor is doing today bypasses the law and exceeds his authority in trying to force his particular candidate onto the commission," said former Chairwoman Hermina Morita. "So I think the governor's actions today just puts a cloud over the whole process in an attempt to politically influence the decision by the PUC."

Ige opposes NextEra's $4.5 billion buyout of HECO, and Morita believes he's appointing Gorak on an interim basis because the attorney also opposes the deal.

The NextEra deal has involved hundreds of hours of hearings and hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. Morita said it makes more sense for outgoing commissioner Michael Champley to stay on the job and vote on the proposal.

But Ige said he's not trying to influence the process. He just wants to speed things along.

Gorak, who has nearly four decades of utility experience, is familiar with all of the entire case. And it would take months for a new commissioner unfamiliar with the proceedings months to get up to speed.

The PUC's commissioners have been poring over a draft decision on the deal for weeks but have not yet made a decision. Champley's term expires on Thursday.

"I waited for this time because I did not want the appointment to impact the current proceedings of the commission. I had hoped that a decision would have been issued by this time," Ige said.

Lawmakers said the governor made the right choice.

"Tom Gorak is somebody who has a lot of background in all the dockets before the PUC as well as general experience with the utilities both here and around the country," said state Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.

Gorak begins his term on Friday. Both NextEra and HECO declined comment.

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