NextEra answers to lawmakers as HEI deal awaits approval

Local News

On Wednesday, lawmakers met with NextEra, the company that is trying to buy Hawaiian Electric.

Some left without the detailed answers they were looking for.

“Before the (Public Utilities Commission) signs off, the legislature signs off, the public feels comfortable, we are going to need to see a lot more of those details,” said Sen. Rosalyn Baker, (D-South and West Maui), commerce and consumer protection chair.

Last month, NextEra announced it would acquire HECO’s parent company, Hawaiian Electric Industries, in a $4.3 billion deal. Since then, NextEra has not said much about customer savings and solar.

Company officials say they’ve been meeting with stakeholders across the state, but Wednesday was the first time they officially answered to lawmakers.

When asked how Hawaii customers would save money, NextEra vice president Rob Gould said, “Part of that would come over time. We can’t really say how much or how much by when.”

But NextEra did explain the how: Since NextEra has a better credit rating than HECO, HECO’s rating would go up after the sale. That would lower costs to borrow money the company would use to buy equipment and vehicles, and those cost savings would be passed onto customers.

“Is there anything in this merger or acquisition that will help us lower the rates next year?” Baker asked.

“I’m not sure about the rates because we’re still tied to oil,” said Alan Oshima, HECO president.

Company officials assured lawmakers HEI’s headquarters would remain on Oahu.

“We need to be respectful, to listen. We need to learn, we need to work hard every day to do business here and my commitment to you is we will do our very best at that,” said Eric Gleason, NextEra president.

“What do you say to critics who might say you’re more interested in building more solar farms than rooftops, which is what HECO says they’ll increase in the next year?” KHON2 asked.

“We love solar. We’ve said that before,” Gould said. NextEra says it supports HECO’s plans to triple distributed solar.

But not all lawmakers were happy with what they heard, and wanted more details from NextEra officials.

“I was hoping for more details. I think we expect more details and the public demands more details,” said Rep. Chris Lee, (D-Kailua, Waimanalo) energy and environmental protection chair.

Lee says he will introduce bills Thursday to ensure deals like HECO’s will have more transparency and public input.

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