NextEra absent from energy conference on Maui
Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc., the company working to buy Hawaii’s largest electric utility, didn’t show up at this year’s Maui Energy Conference, where members of the energy community gathered to discuss the best strategies to get the state to its 100 percent renewable energy goal.
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KAHULUI >> Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc., the company working to buy Hawaii’s largest electric utility, didn’t show up at this year’s Maui Energy Conference, where members of the energy community gathered to discuss the best strategies to get the state to its 100 percent renewable energy goal.
No member of the NextEra team was present. No panel listed NextEra as a topic. Aside from the company’s logo on a banner acknowledging contributors, and a handout included in the conference gift bag, there was no NextEra representation at the event.
“It’s pretty close to decision making. The record is there. The arguments have been made. It’s in the regulators’ hands right now. … The table has been kind of set already.”
Former chairwoman, Public Utilities Commission
The Maui Energy Conference, held this week at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, is one of the premier events of the year for the energy industry, so it was odd that the company that could be the main player in the state’s energy future was absent. Not only did NextEra not attend the event, there also was little discussion of NextEra.
Most attendees also declined to offer an opinion on the chances that NextEra’s proposal to buy Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. would win state regulatory approval. The state Public Utilities Commission must sign off on the sale for it to close and has said it will make a decision later this year.
The list of attendees not willing to talk about which way the PUC will vote included Ted Peck, former administrator at the state energy office; state Consumer Advocate Jeff Ono; Hawaii Regional Manager for REC Solar Drew Bradley; and Jonathan Howery, business development associate and project manager at Stem Inc.
NextEra was invited to a panel moderated by Kyle Datta, partner at Ulupono Initiative, the Pierre Omidyar-founded investment firm that focuses on locally produced food; clean, renewable energy; and waste reduction.
“What does that say about … what you think matters?” Datta said. “What does that say about you and how you are going to be engaging with us in the future? Actions speak louder than words.”
NextEra spokesman Rob Gould said there were conflicting schedules.
“(I) certainly wouldn’t read anything into it and suggest you not either,” Gould said in an email.
Eric Gleason, NextEra Energy Hawaii CEO, attended the event last year. HEI CEO Connie Lau and HECO CEO Alan Oshima attended last year but were missing this year.
“It’s a noticeable absence,” Datta said. “That’s the decision they obviously made.”
Lynne Unemori, spokeswoman for HECO, said Oshima and Gleason were attending the Edison Electric Institute meeting in Washington, D.C. The EEI is an association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electrical companies.
“The timing didn’t work out this year,” Unemori said.
Jeff Ono, the state consumer advocate, said he is disappointed NextEra didn’t show up.
Mark Glick, administrator for the Hawaii State Energy Office, said NextEra’s participation in the conference would have been interesting because HECO is creating two future plans: one with NextEra as an owner and one with HECO on its own.
“That could have been a good topic of discussion,” Glick said.
One person willing to comment on the NextEra decision was Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, an environmental group and official intervener in the PUC case. Curtis said he sees three possible outcomes — the most likely outcome being that the PUC approves the sale with so many conditions that NextEra walks away.
Curtis also said the PUC might not make a decision by the time NextEra and HECO’s initial contract ends June 3, and NextEra will walk away. The third scenario is the PUC rejects the sale, Curtis said.
Mina Morita, former chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission, said she thought NextEra was missing from the conference’s conversations “because they covered it last year. The whole conference last year was focused on the merger.”
NextEra announced its plan to buy HEI for $4.3 billion on Dec. 3, 2014.
Since the sale was announced, the PUC hosted public listening sessions across all islands, NextEra hosted public meetings across all islands and the PUC held 22 days of hearings on Oahu where local groups and the state regulator questioned NextEra about the public benefits of the sale.
Now the state regulators are reviewing the sale.
“It’s pretty close to decision making,” Morita said. “The record is there. The arguments have been made. It’s in the regulators’ hands right now. … The table has been kind of set already.”