In early December 2014, Florida-based NextEra Energy announced that Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) had agreed to merge with it. A joint statement put out by the companies contained repeated assertions that the merger–valued at $4.3 billion–would be outstanding for everyone concerned. It would help modernize Hawaii’s grid, increase the use of renewable energy resources, decrease the state’s dependence on fossil fuels and lower consumer bills.
“In NextEra Energy, Hawaiian Electric is gaining a trusted partner that can help the company accelerate its plans to achieve the clean energy future we all want for Hawaii,” HEI President/CEO Connie Lau said in the statement. “NextEra Energy and Hawaiian Electric share a common vision, a more affordable clean energy future for Hawaii. While our goals are among the most ambitious in the nation, including increasing renewables to 65 percent, tirpling solar and lowering customer bills 20 percent by 2030, we are confident that by leveraging both NextEra Energy and Hawaiian Electric’s expertise and the additional financial resources that NextEra Energy brings [the merger agreement stipulates that NextEra assume $1.7 billion in HEI debt], we can meet these targets even sooner.”
For the last seven, eight months, these assertions have pretty much stood without comment. But then yesterday, Hawaii Governor David Ige released a public statement on the proposed merger. And then the floodgates of criticism opened.
“Although I welcome capital investment in Hawai‘i with respect to energy, any merger or investment must align with the state’s 100 percent renewable energy goal,” Ige said in his statement (his office also sent a link to hundreds of pages of testimony from various state agencies against the merger). “The state respectfully opposes the merger in its current form because it fails to align with the state’s renewable energy goals.”
That statement from Ige hit my email inbox at 3:27pm. Forty-five minutes later, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa’s response to Ige’s response to the NextEra/HEI merger arrived.
“Maui County and the other counties have all been talking about NextEra concerns for some time now and it is good to see that Governor Ige has joined us,” said Arakawa. “This is exactly why Maui County has been looking at other options such as starting our own municipal utility. Kauai County already does this and I know that Hawaii County is considering it as well. It might be time for the City and County of Honolulu to look into the municipal or
co-op utility model too.”
If anything, Arakawa seems even more opposed to the merger than Ige.
“Most concerning to us is how NextEra seems to view renewable energy,” said Arakawa. “While most local residents and businesses would like to expand the use of solar, wind and other renewable resources in our grid, NextEra seems more interested in wanting to control and limit their use. This is not a model that is good for the County of Maui or the State of Hawaii. Our utility should be more concerned about community benefits rather than profits and dividends.”
An hour after that, my inbox pinged again, this time with a statement from Sierra Club Hawaii Executive Director Marti Townsend commending Ige.
“We 100% agree with the Governor on the NextEra takeover,” said Townsend. “Hawai‘i is leading a revolution in renewable energy that requires local leadership that is committed to serving the needs of Hawai‘i’s energy customers. NextEra is just not on the same page with the rest of Hawai‘i.”
It will be fascinating to see what the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ultimately decides on the merger. According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s July 21 story on Ige’s opposition, the PUC could take until next June to make a decision.
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