- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Officials are questioning the head of NextEra Energy Hawaii about what would happen if the company takes over Hawaiian Electric, the state’s main utility company.

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission’s chief counsel Thomas Gorak questioned NextEra Energy Hawaii President Eric Gleason on Wednesday during one of a series of public hearings that will last several weeks.

Gleason said he led the team that came to Hawaii several years ago to develop the idea of the merger.

During the hearing, they talked about how Florida-based NextEra would satisfy a Hawaii law requiring utilities to obtain all of their energy from renewable sources by 2045. Gleason estimated it would cost $30 billion. Those costs would be borne not just by utilities, but also by power producers, third-party owners of distributed generation and customers, he said.

The discussions addressed local control and where major decisions about the company would be made. Gleason said that if the merger goes through most major decisions will ultimately be made by NextEra’s board of directors, which is not based in Hawaii.

Gorak asked whether NextEra would consider adding a Hawaii-based member to its board.

“Given Hawaii’s status with respect to renewable energy…wouldn’t it make sense to have someone from the (Hawaiian Electric) companies on the NextEra board?” Gorak asked.

“No, I don’t see that,” Gleason said, adding that presidents of the two other principal businesses owned by NextEra do not sit on the NextEra board. “We wouldn’t want them to feel left out.”

Asked about a possible undersea power transmission cable between Maui and Oahu, Gleason said the most recent estimate made in 2013 was that it would cost about $600 million.

State Consumer Advocate Jeff Ono quizzed Gleason on his knowledge of the Hawaiian language and commitment to Hawaiian values such as “pono,” or righteousness.

It turns out that Gleason could easily recite the state motto in Hawaiian. But he didn’t recognize a few Hawaiian words on the Hawaiian Electric website, including Kahikuonalani, a less-known Hawaiian word which honors former King Kalakaua for bringing electricity to Iolani Palace in the 1880s.

The hearings will resume Thursday.

The companies valued the deal at $2.6 billion last year, or $4.3 billion including Hawaiian Electric’s debt.

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