Neighbor island mayors discuss forming own utility

Local News

Could the neighbor islands break away from Hawaiian Electric and join forces with each other? The discussions are underway.

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa wants to hire a consultant to look at the different options, including HEI’s current plan to merge with NextEra Energy.

Other possibilities include a co-op like Kauai, owned by members, and a municipal utility, which is run by the government.

“Until we make an educated decision, we shouldn’t be jumping the gun, getting out in front of ourselves, making commitments that may be erroneous,” Arakawa said.

KHON2 found out that Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho already talked to Arakawa about possible opportunities.

The Garden Island is not a part of Hawaiian Electric and has the state’s only electric co-op, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, which was approved in 2002. It’s owned by members and has 32,000 accounts.

“We’re open to maybe partnering and sharing some of our processes of hooking up with Kauai as far as extending out to our neighbor islands too, maybe,” Carvalho said.

“So you’re considering possibly allowing other islands to join KIUC?” KHON2 asked.

“Or a branch of that, and we’re talking about that right now and sharing that with you,” Carvalho said.

Carvalho said Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi is also entertaining the idea.

But breaking away from the private utility company would cost money and a lot of it. Purchasing KIUC cost $215 million.

Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, Kau, said he favors the Big Island having its own utility, but would not raise taxes to pay for it.

“The more local control that you have and the closer the control is to the people, the more accountability there is, so I know a lot of people would like that,” Green said.

With all this talk going on, Public Utilities Commission Chair Randy Iwase said, “That does not, per se, affect our case or determine how we will decide the merger issue.”

A HECO spokesperson said the utility is aware of Arakawa’s comments, but does not have a position on them right now.

NextEra declined to comment.

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