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Molokai Joins Opposition to NextEra Merger

Molokai residents voiced largely opposition two weeks ago to a proposed merger between Hawaiian Electric and NextEra, a Florida-based energy company. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is gathering public feedback on the proposed $4.3 million merger and will make a decision within the next six months. Molokai’s feedback, said Commission Chair Randall Iwase, has been in keeping with what they’ve heard so far around the state.

“The commission is not required to hold these sessions, but it was opinion of all three commissioners that it was important and appropriate to hear from the public,” said Iwase.

A majority of Molokai attendees testified that they opposed the merger.

“Big is not better any longer,” said Cheryl Corbiell, a member of I Aloha Molokai, a group that advocates for local energy alternatives, saying she was “adamantly against” a merger. “They [NextEra] got a lot of money but they don’t have vested interest in the individual islands… There needs to be a changing perspective in energy… going smaller rather than bigger.”

Matt Yamashita, who said he used to work for the solar industry until Maui Electric said Molokai’s grid could no longer accommodate additional renewable energy due to technical concerns, has been skeptical of NextEra since the company’s first meeting on Molokai in the spring.

“From what I understand, community meetings across island have shown close to 90 percent opposition [to the merger, from news reports],” he said. “I found [NextEra’s] track record was questionable and didn’t meet the needs of the community.”

For many, keeping it local and finding smaller-scale solutions to fit the electricity needs of each community is foremost.

“For me, I want to advocate any way that Molokai can be separated from Oahu’s needs and other islands,” said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Molokai Trustee Collette Machado. “My position now is ‘no’ because inadequate information has been provided…. NextEra is the giant and you [PUC] are the advocates for us.”

Machado added her appreciation for the PUC’s visit to Molokai, saying she couldn’t remember the last time commissioners had come to hear from the community.

Some Molokai residents have been exploring the option of creating a cooperative to operate a local electric company, similar to the model used on Kauai, in which residents invest in and manage their own utility. The County of Maui recently announced that it is moving forward with a study to examine alternatives to the NextEra merger, one of which is a co-op option.

Kanoho Helm, one of I Aloha Molokai’s founders, said a co-op would be a lot of work and residents would need to come forward and be willing to take on the challenge. Many said that model might present a good alternative to current frustrations with Hawaiian Electric.

“We really want to keep Molokai, Molokai,” said resident Barbara Kalipi. “Cooperatives seem to be a really good thing to explore. Each island is different… We got to think hard about implications for future generations.”

Other residents said they simply did not have enough information about NextEra’s plans to make an informed decision.

“I’m still in the middle, I’m not sure if this is a good deal for Molokai or State of Hawaii,” said Emillia Noordhoek, executive director of nonprofit Sust`ainable Molokai. “We need to know the plan… We’d really like to have the transparency to see what that is and how Molokai figures into that.”

Rob Stephenson, presidents of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce, said he appreciated the personal conversations he had had with NextEra leadership and supported the merger.

“The opportunity before us is, given the plans of NextEra, we may see a significant impact for our island residents and businesses… by providing possible hope for our island,” he said.

County Council member and Molokai resident Stacy Crivello said that while she could not say if she is for or against the merger, what’s certain is the island’s electric infrastructure needs to be upgraded, and she stressed the importance of a relationship of trust with a local company.

Iwase said the overall opposition on Molokai to the proposed merger was typical of what the commission has heard on other islands.

“What you heard here today, is basically it…. ‘I didn’t have enough information,’ ‘NextEra has not been forthcoming,’ ‘keep it local.’” said Iwase. “The stuff you heard here today, we heard it on Maui, we heard it on Lanai, I’m assuming we’ll hear it on Kauai and the Big Island.”

Residents can still submit written testimony by email to puc.comments@hawaii.gov. After conducting public listening sessions on all the islands, the PUC will start the trial on Nov. 30, said Iwase. The trial process, which will include looking at all evidence surrounding the proposed merger, could conclude as early as December, or could extend into early next year. He said a decision on the merger will be announced sometime between January and April.

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