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NextEra defends plan to buy Hawaiian Electric, commits to Hawaii's renewable energy goals

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HONOLULU — Florida-based company NextEra Energy is defending its plans to acquire Hawaiian Electric, saying that it is committed to Hawaii's renewable energy goals.

Executives from the company filed written responses to the Public Utilities Commission addressing concerns raised by Gov. David Ige, the Consumer Advocate and others on Monday, outlining 50 new promises on issues including retaining local management. Ige said in July that he opposed the deal because he was concerned that NextEra may not be able to fulfill Hawaii's goals that its utilities use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, among other reasons.

"We are totally focused on 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 if not sooner, and part of that is getting off of oil," said Eric Gleason, president of NextEra Energy Hawaii, in a conference call with reporters Monday. "We're very confident in partnering with the state and Hawaiian Electric to get there."

The company touted its leadership in producing energy from the wind and sun. Florida Power and Light, a NextEra company and one of the country's largest electrical utilities, reduced its use of foreign oil since 2001 from more than 40 million barrels annually to less than 1 million barrels annually today, through its investments in natural gas, according to NextEra. That saved customers more than $7.5 billion on fuel costs and prevented more than 85 million tons of carbon emissions, the company said. But Ige recently announced that he's against the idea of Hawaii importing liquid natural gas.

NextEra has its own solar farms in Florida, and operates solar farms in several states. The company is not currently submitting specific plans for wind turbines or rooftop solar projects in Hawaii, but would do so within a year of the deal closing in a process that involves the community, Gleason said.

Asked whether the company supports the installation of an undersea power transmission cable between Oahu and Maui, Gleason said NextEra is open minded about the idea, but not committed to it one way or another.

"It's on the table, but we are not certain at this point how strong the public interest case for it is," Gleason said.

The company's filings also didn't touch on using geothermal energy, but that's because NextEra was responding to concerns raised by various parties who didn't ask about geothermal, Gleason said.

The company plans to accelerate the delivery of Smart Meters, electronic devices that record electricity consumption, to all customers by 2019. The devices are intended to help consumers understand how they can reduce energy consumption and to help the utility spot power outages in a timely manner.

Ige also had said in July that many questions raised by critics of the deal had gone unanswered during the screening process.

"We're trying to be as responsive as we can," said Eric Gleason, president of NextEra Energy Hawaii. "We received close to 4,000 information requests...and we've responded with close to 40,000 pages of documentation."

The companies valued the deal at $2.6 billion in December, or $4.3 billion including Hawaiian Electric's debt.

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