- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - The chairman of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission says the regulatory body isn’t making a decision about a proposed merger between Hawaiian Electric and NextEra before a Friday deadline.

Without that decision, either party can now walk away from the deal. To do so, Florida-based NextEra would have to pay $95 million.

Commissioners are reviewing thousands of documents to decide if the merger is in the public’s interest, said Randy Iwase, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission.

“It’s the sale of the only major utility company servicing this state,” Iwase said. “Unlike the mainland, where if the grid goes down you can get help from elsewhere, we don’t have that here. We’re out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”

The three-person panel is deciding whether Hawaiian Electric and NextEra have proven they can deliver on 18 different issues, including whether the sale is in the best interest of the public and whether NextEra is fit and willing to perform the duties, he said.

NextEra is one of the country’s largest electrical utilities and owns a major wind and solar energy company, while Hawaiian Electric supplies power to 95 percent of Hawaii’s population. The two companies announced NextEra’s plans to acquire Hawaiian Electric in December 2014, and valued the deal at $2.6 billion, or $4.3 billion including the assumption of Hawaiian Electric’s debt. The Public Utilities Commission held nearly two dozen days of public hearings on the proposed merger.

“Just because you’ve gone out on a first date doesn’t mean you have to go get married, take the first suitor that comes,” Iwase said. “That suitor has to be willing and able, and what has been offered for this sale to the people of this state that has to be in the public interest. We have to protect them. We have to protect the ratepayer, and we’ve got to be comfortable with the idea that this sale is good for the people of Hawaii.”

Iwase says the commission might make a decision this month.

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