The state Public Utilities Commission has approved petitions by Maui County and environmental group Life of the Land to get more involved in Hawaiian Electric Co.’s Big Wind project.
The PUC said Maui County and Life of the Land can intervene in a case in which Hawaiian Electric is seeking to recover nearly $4 million from ratepayers for studies associated with its plan to generate wind energy on Lanai and Molokai and transmit the electricity to Oahu using an undersea cable.
In a decision issued last week, the PUC rejected a range of arguments offered by HECO, which hoped to keep Maui County and Life of the Land from participating in the case.
Officials from Maui County and Life of the Land welcomed the PUC’s ruling, saying it will help ensure that the decision-making process is open and transparent. Opponents of the Big Wind project have complained of secrecy in the planning process and a lack of information from state government, HECO and developers about details of the project.
The PUC, which oversees HECO, has several open dockets in the Big Wind case, including one in which the utility is seeking permission to have ratepayers foot a $3.9 million bill for "Stage 1" studies examining the transmission of wind-generated energy from Lanai and Molokai and its integration into the utility’s grid on Oahu. The PUC’s decision ensures that Maui County and Life of the Land will have access to all documents in the case.
In seeking to block the intervention attempts, HECO officials argued, among other things, that Maui County and Life of the Land were raising issues outside the scope of what the utility was intending to address in the case concerning funding of the study.
The PUC’s three commissioners issued a unanimous eight-page ruling.
"The commission finds that Life of the Land and the County have interests that are reasonably pertinent to the issues presented and that their participation can assist in the development of a sound record," they wrote.
The commissioners noted that Maui County and Life of the Land were correct in asserting that HECO was obligated to consider forms of alternative energy other than wind, such as solar, biomass and biofuel when evaluating the potential cost of the Big Wind project.
However, the PUC cautioned the interveners that it would "reconsider their participation in this docket if, at any time, during the course of this proceeding, the commission determines that they are unreasonably broadening the pertinent issues raised in this docket or unduly delaying the proceeding."