Groups Petition Hawai’ian Utility for Solar Support

Joanna Schroeder

A coalition of community groups have petitioned the Hawai’i Public Utilities Commission in support of renewable energy such as solar. The group is calling for a completion of the state’s renewable energy goals before it considers approving the purchase of Hawaiian Electric Industries by Florida-based NextEra Energy. The coalition includes Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, Blue Planet Foundation, Hawai‘i PV Coalition, Hawai‘i Solar Energy Association and The Alliance for Solar Choice.

Solar panels dot the rooftops of homes in Salt Lake on Oahu, Hawaiʻi. Photo Credit: MATT MALLAMS / EARTHJUSTICE

Solar panels dot the rooftops of homes in Salt Lake on Oahu, Hawaiʻi. Photo Credit: MATT MALLAMS / EARTHJUSTICE

NextEra’s proposal to buy Hawaiian Electric for $4.3 billion was announced in early December and will require various approvals, including by the PUC. The merger application to the PUC has not yet been filed.

“Our purpose is to make sure the horse is in front of the cart,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation. “As clean energy stakeholders, we share the joint interest in making sure we complete planning for Hawai‘i’s energy future now. We don’t want to put the discussions on the back-burner and then have to start over after the merger proceeding is finished.”

“Hawai‘i customers deserve an energy roadmap to ensure we’re acting in the best interest of the public, like having access to cheaper and cleaner power, before engaging in a long and complicated merger process,” said Leslie Cole-Brooks, executive director of the Hawai‘i Solar Association.

Over the past several years, the Commission has demanded that Hawaiian Electric focus on establishing a roadmap for a sustainable, customer-focused electric grid that serves the best interests of the state and people of Hawai‘i.

The petition states that the Commission’s numerous orders, together with enactments by the state legislature, have identified specific issues and mandated specific next steps necessary to articulate “the vision, business strategies, and regulatory policy changes required to align the [Hawaiian Electric]’s business model with customers’ interests and the state’s public policy goals.”

According to the coalition, in August 2014, Hawaiian Electric filed proposed plans in response to the Commission’s orders. But after the Commission invited early public comments on the proposals, a flood of opposition and criticism poured in from all quarters, including the Hawai‘i State Energy Office, clean energy and environmental groups, and the general public.

“Finishing the work we started to plan Hawai‘i’s energy future is simply common sense,” said Isaac Moriwake, an attorney with Earthjustice representing Sierra Club. “It puts the interests of ratepayers and the public first, rather than letting a private deal drive the process. The legal standard for reviewing a proposed merger is ‘what’s in the public interest,’ and we need to finish the work to define where we’re going before deciding who’ll take us there.”

So far, NextEra has indicated it supports Hawaiian Electric’s proposed plans and has yet to reveal its full intentions in Hawai‘i.

The petition and coalition do not take a position on the merits of the proposed merger. “Our sole focus is to finish laying the foundation for clean energy transformation—a process that is already underway at the Commission,” said Mikulina. “We believe completing the years of planning effort is in the best interests of the people of Hawaii.”

Electricity, Renewable Energy, Solar