Gov. Ige opposes NextEra deal to buy Hawaiian Electric

Gov. Ige opposes NextEra deal to buy Hawaiian Electric [Ben Gutierrez report]

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige said he's opposing the proposed sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries to Florida-based energy giant NextEra Energy, saying the mainland company has failed to explain how it would align with the state's renewable energy goals.

Ige is asking the Public Utilities Commission, a three-member panel that is chaired by Randy Iwase, whom Ige appointed, to disapprove the deal. The PUC review of the sale could last until June.

NextEra wants to buy Hawaiian Electric for $4.3 billion, but the governor said the deal as it is structured should be rejected.

"We are taking the position that the merger as proposed at this point is unacceptable.  And the responses given to the specific questions and challenges raised were not satisfactory," Ige told reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in his State Capitol office.

Ige said NextEra needs to answer key questions more clearly, such as how it will make the state's goal of getting 100-percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2045.

"What's the proposed merger's commitment to the 100 percent renewable?  And I think the responses to that question was vague and non-committal, to say the least," Ige said.

A NextEra spokesman declined an interview but released a statement that said the company supports the goal of Hawaii using 100-percent renewable energy in 30 years.

"… we have made commitments to employees, community causes and for the establishment of a local independent advisory board, and we will listen to and work with all stakeholders to achieve what's best for the State of Hawaii and Hawaiian Electric's customers," said NextEra Vice President and Chief Communication Officer Rob Gould in the statement.

But Ige says he shares the concerns of residents who are worried the East Coast-based NextEra is 5,000 miles away from the islands.

Ige said he's worried about, "The whole notion of loss of local control of decision making on the corporation."

NextEra said Hawaii would benefit from "… more than $600 million in economic benefits in the first five years after closing, and we are optimistic that as the regulatory process continues, we will find more common ground and further demonstrate the strong public interest benefits of this merger."

Alan Oshima, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO, released a statement that said, "The PUC review is an ongoing process that provides an opportunity to address and answer questions or concerns.  As more information is provided throughout this process, we feel strongly that others will also conclude that this partnership with NextEra Energy will result in significant benefits for our customers and for Hawai'i's leadership in clean energy."

State Rep. Chris Lee, who chairs the House Energy Committee, said the House took the position that "NextEra is not operating in good faith because it hasn't produced a viable plan for the future, it has opposed the intervention of local stakeholders asking questions about what this is going to mean."

Lee said NextEra unsuccessfully tried to prevent local solar and environmental groups from being able to ask them questions as part of the PUC evaluation of the pending sale, essentially trying to muzzle its critics.

"This isn't something that promotes a whole lot of transparency and that's something that's a real concern," Lee said.

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