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PUC begins hearings on NextEra purchase of HEI

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Groups in support and opposition of NextEra Energy Inc.’s proposed purchase of Hawaiian Electric Industries rallied around the Neal S. Blaisdell Center Monday morning as state regulators began the trial-like hearings to investigate whether the $4.3 billion sale is in the public interest.

Public Utilities Commission Chief Counsel Tom Gorak questioned Hawaiian Electric Co. President and CEO Alan Oshima on the risks the sale could pose for ratepayers, whether HEI or NextEra had designed the benefit package for ratepayers and the estimated costs it would would take to get the state off of its dependence on oil.

At 8:30 a.m, before the hearing began, approximately 30 members from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 and Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters lined-up along Ward Avenue holding signs to show support for NextEra’s purchase of HEI.

At 11 a.m. Hawaii state representatives, Hawaii Gas Co., Surfrider Foundation as well as a couple business owners and residents gathered outside the Blaisdell Concert Hall at a press conference to voice concerns about the company trying to buy Hawaii’s largest electric utility.

Russell Yamanoha, director of media communications for IBEW 1260, said that the group came to support NextEra because of the commitments the company has made to the union.

“Now that they are stepping up to the plate for members, we are stepping up to the plate for them,” he said.

Local 1260, which originally opposed the sale, said it changed its stance after NextEra committed in writing to recognize the union as the exclusive bargaining agent for its members, to train current and future union members for new jobs that evolve with new technologies and promised there would be no layoffs for two years following the sale’s closing.

State Rep. Beth Fukumoto, the Minority Leader (R-Mililani, Mililani-Mauka) said she did not support NextEra’s purchase of HEI and was worried about the recent price tag NextEra placed on the cost to accomplish the state’s 100 percent renewable energy goals. Eric Gleason, president of NextEra Energy Hawaii LLC, said earlier this month to get the state off its dependence on oil would cost $30 billion over the next three decades.

“They’re putting the $30 billion in Cadillac plan infrastructure upgrades on the credit card of the people of Hawaii,” she said. “We’re the ones who will have to pay it back.”

State Rep. Chris Lee (D-Kailua, Waimanalo) said the $30 billion is a concern because the utilities can pass it on to consumers and take up to $7,000 in profits from each family.

“If this is the case, we need to know right now what their plans are because the more they spend the more we as local consumers end up having to pay,” Lee said.

Nathan Nelson, legal counsel for Hawaii Gas Co. in the regulatory review of the sale, said that the company was worried about NextEra’s reputation with competition.

“Ultimately, competition is what will drive costs lower, ensuring the best benefits for ratepayers,” he said.

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