Looks like the County of Maui really is serious about possibly setting up a municipal electric utility–especially given the possible merger between Hawaiian Electric Industries and NextEra that’s pending before the state Public Utilities Commission. How that merger will affect Maui Electric Co. (MECO) is still a matter of conjecture. So on May 6, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development announced that it was issuing a new Request for Proposals (RFP) on a proposed Maui County municipal utility or co-op.
“We must look at our options, but to do that and have a constructive conversation about the matter we need more information,” said Mayor Alan Arakawa in the May 6 announcement. “This study will provide us that information, and will tell us if it would be best to start our own utility, form a co-op as Kauai did, allow the NextEra deal to go through or some other option. We need to make an informed decision as a community.”
In our Apr. 15, 2015 Green Issue, Rob Parsons asked consultant/former Maui County Energy Commissioner Doug McLeod about the possibility of the county going into the utility business. “Whether a co-op or municipal utility (‘muni’), the source of funds for any purchase of MECO assets would have to be bonds issued by, or backed by, the County of Maui,” McLeod said. “To use a round number, let’s assume it would cost $500 million. That would require a real commitment from the County Council and I’m not sure they’re on board. I also think it’s important to recognize that the business of selling electricity now looks a lot riskier than it did 10 years ago. Do you really want to own some of MECO’s old generating units?”
Instead, McLeod told Parsons, a better idea might be for the county to just take over the transmission lines. “This type of wires and pipes operation would not own turbines or other units. It would balance supply and demand, create a market price for energy, and give independent developers of renewable energy sources confidence that the rules would be fair to all but show a preference for renewable energy,” he said.
You can see the RFP at Mauicounty.gov/RFP. The deadline for proposals is 4pm on Friday, June 5, 2015. For more information, call 808-270-7710.
Photo of 1948 US National Bureau of Standards high voltage lab: Wikimedia Commons