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Lawmakers say Hawaii should explore alternatives to NextEra

Kathryn Mykleseth
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Lawmakers from the Legislature and the Honolulu City Council were on hand for a press conference on Thursday at the capitol to voice their concerns about energy and NextEra. Standing up front were, from left, Cynthia Thielen, Ernie Martin, Beth Fukumoto and Chris Lee.

More than 20 state and county leaders gathered at the Hawaii State Capitol on Thursday to announce the need to examine public ownership of electric utilities in Hawaii. 

The leaders said it was in the best interest of the public to consider other electric utility ownership models outside of NextEra Energy Inc.’s proposed $4.3 billion purchase of Hawaiian Electric Industries. 

“We understand that the public has some significant concerns about the NextEra merger,” said State Rep. Chris Lee (D-Kailua, Waimanalo). “We have a decision before us in our state that will last for decades to come. We are here to say that for our purposes, for the public, for the constituents of Hawaii, we need to put the best interest of the public first. That means putting all options on the table.” 

Lee said lawmakers need to evaluate the potential of a city or cooperative owning the electric utility, noting that initiatives to examine those options are underway on Maui and Hawaii island. The Maui Mayor’s Office of Economic Development said Tuesday it has selected Oklahoma-based Guernsey, a consultant, to study utility options for the community. A group on Hawaii island, Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative, said in February it is considering turning Hawaii Electric Light Co. into a cooperative. 

Both initiatives were sparked by NextEra’s announcement in December that the Florida-based company was looking to purchase HEI. 

The lawmakers’ call for other utility models came three days after NextEra filed an updated set of commitments with the Public Utilities Commission — a mandatory part of the regulatory review of the sale. 

“We can all agree that the skyrocketing cost of electricity is detrimental to local families. Until NextEra provides a framework for customer savings, it would be irresponsible not to explore options like co-ops and other alternatives,” said Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang (R-Mililani, Mililani-Mauka).

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