Honolulu council member pushes to study utility options on Oahu

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There may be another move surrounding the sale of Hawaiian Electric, but this would only focus on who should buy the power grid in Honolulu.

This comes as the utility, Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI), moves forward with a sale to NextEra Energy of Florida. The proposed $4.3 billion sale was announced last December.

HEI provides the power on Oahu, the Big Island and Maui. Last week, the mayor of Maui County put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to study who should own Maui Electric. There is also a grassroots effort underway on the Big Island.

The effort in Honolulu is being led by Ernie Martin, chairman of the Honolulu City Council. He will be meeting soon with a self-described consumer advocacy group, called KULOLO or “Keep our Utilities Locally Owned and Locally Operated,” which was formed just two weeks ago.

“Anytime you have a monopoly in control, it raises concerns as to whether you are getting the best price,” Martin told KHON2. “We’re still in the budget process (at the city council for Fiscal Year 2016), so there is time to make adjustments to the budget and fund a RFP similar to what Maui County is undertaking for this particular issue.”

KULOLO spokesman Robert Harris told KHON2 it is also take its case to the State Capitol, and directing petitions “specifically at Gov. Ige about the idea that there is probably economies of scale doing it statewide.”

Harris went on to say that this is not about the just the sale of HEI to NextEra.

“It’s a question, as we move forward with an increasingly decentralized grid where people are choosing to do things like solar and batteries, at looking at perhaps the future of the utility as a publicly owned one,” he said.

Harris said other models of ownership include setting up a cooperative similar to the one established on Kauai or local government ownership of a power grid in its jurisdiction.

KHON2 spoke to Randy Iwase, chairman of the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), who said the PUC will have to approve any sale of HEI in whole or in parts, and any prospective owner of a power grid or grids needs to meet the same criteria that NextEra is facing.

The purchaser must be willing and able to assume the responsibility and any sale would have to be in the best interest of the people of the state of Hawaii, he said.

Iwase also said while the PUC is aware of the efforts at local ownership, it is still proceeding with its review of the sale to NextEra.

Iwase said there are 29 other parties who want to be involved in any sale of HEI and have the opportunity to pose questions about the transaction to both HEI and NextEra. Iwase said that process will end on Aug. 31.

The PUC will then embark on so-called “listening sessions” throughout the state, which will begin sometime in September and end in November. The PUC will then hold hearings on the sale in December.

Iwase said the commissioners hope to make a decision on the proposed sale to NextEra by the middle of next year.

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