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Panel advances Iwase to lead Public Utilities Commission

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Randy Iwase told state senators that if he’s confirmed as chairman of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, he will make public input a priority when tackling the commission’s biggest issue — reviewing NextEra Energy’s plan to take over Hawaiian Electric.

The Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection on Tuesday approved Iwase’s nomination to the Public Utilities Commission. It now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

Iwase, a former state senator, sailed through the confirmation hearing, facing an audience of friendly peers. He has been acting as chairman of the commission since his nomination in January.

“I believe we have a duty to pass along to our children and our grandchildren the foundation to build a better future for our state,” Iwase said, adding that the state’s energy policy is a major component.

Reducing reliance on fossil fuels, taking action to increase energy efficiency and establishing renewable portfolio standards all are critical if Hawaii is to achieve its dream of energy independence, he said.

Perhaps the most important undertaking of the commission will be reviewing NextEra Energy’s proposed takeover of Hawaiian Electric, said Sen. Rosalyn Baker, chairwoman of the Senate committee. She asked Iwase what the commission would consider when making its decision.

Iwase said he hopes to hold public hearings about the proposed takeover on every island.

“We are not required to hold a public hearing,” Iwase said. “My thinking is we should.”

Hawaiian Electric has existed since the days of the Hawaiian Kingdom, unlike other utilities which began operating later, Iwase said.

“This is a historic decision,” he said, adding that it impacts the economy, jobs and retirees who rely on stock shares and dividends.

The commission is understaffed, and Iwase has been hiring attorneys and researchers, he said, adding that he’d like to double his staff.

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