Despite possible lower bills, residents against NextEra deal

KAHULUI, Maui — Some Maui residents are hesitating to support a utility merger that NextEra Energy says would lower electric bills.

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KAHULUI, Maui — Some Maui residents are hesitating to support a utility merger that NextEra Energy says would lower electric bills.

More than 200 people gathered Friday and 49 offered testimony at the first of seven community hearings about the utility merger before the state Public Utilities Commission, according to the Maui News.

NextEra and Hawaiian Electric valued the deal at $2.6 billion in December, or $4.3 billion including Hawaiian Electric’s debt.

Many attendees said they worried NextEra’s Florida headquarters is just too far away to properly care for customers in Hawaii.

“For Maui residents, it’s already hard to have input on decisions that are made in Honolulu. We are greatly concerned that electricity decisions will be made 5,000 miles away. Maui, Molokai, Lanai are different islands with different resources … will NextEra give each island a seat on its advisory board and will this board have any power at all?” Maui Tomorrow Foundation Executive Director Albert Perez asked.

But while most of the residents who testified were against the acquisition, some said they believe the larger utility will help increase the use of renewable energy.

State lawmakers passed a resolution earlier this year to have 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

“Not only do they (NextEra) have the experience and the newest technology, but they also have the buying power to make it much more affordable to upgrade our electrical systems, and enhance and upgrade the grids to enable all homeowners that want to utilize photovoltaic to do so,” Kihei resident Marilyn Chapman said.

On Thursday 40 state and county lawmakers suggested Hawaii explore how to turn Hawaiian Electric into a cooperative association or a government-owned municipal utility.

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“Bring the power to the people, we’ll see a brighter future,” state house Rep. Kaniela Ing said at the news conference.

Maui County on Tuesday awarded a $70,000 research contract to Oklahoma-based consulting firm Guernsey to study options like a county-owned utility or co-op. Results are expected in October.

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