Report: NextEra-HEI decision delayed by regulatory infighting
- Regulators on the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission reached a majority opinion on the $4.3 billion acquisition of Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) by NextEra Energy last month, KHON news reports, but internal disagreements have delayed its release.
- Days after a majority was reached, it upended when Gov. David Ige (D) replaced one of the members of the three-member commission, sparking a confirmation controversy that is delaying further proceedings, according to an internal complaint provided to the news station.
- PUC Chair Randy Iwase defended his amendment process for the draft decision on the merger, saying it was not designed to delay a final decision. The president of the Hawaii Senate has asked the state attorney general to review the appointment of former PUC lawyer Thomas Gorak to the commission, saying the governor should have sought confirmation from lawmakers.
As recently as June 27, Hawaii regulators had a majority opinion on whether to approve or reject the largest single business deal in the state's history, according to an internal complaint obtained by a local news station last week.
The document details squabbles between regulators over wording of the final order and access to commission resources. At one point, KHON reports, it alleges then-PUC lawyer Gorak and Chair Iwase "denied any legal staff support to assist [Commissioner Mike Champley] in drafting the majority opinion."
The decision was delayed until June 29, when Gov. Ige announced Gorak as his replacement for Champley, whose tenure on the PUC was up.
Ige has been a vocal opponent of the merger, stoking concerns from lawmakers that the appointment sought to influence the PUC's decision. The governor did not seek confirmation from the Hawaii Senate for Gorak's appointment, saying he had the authority to fill a vacancy on the commission himself.
Lawmakers responded with threats to sue, and the impasse could mean further delays for the merger proceeding. Senate President Ronald Kouchi (D) last week sent a letter to the state attorney general, requesting more details on why he authorized Ige to make the unilateral appointment.
For his part, Champley told KHON he did not author or submit the complaint. The majority of intervenors in the merger docket, open for nearly two years, are opposed to the acquisition. Analysts have speculated that NextEra may turn its sights to Texas utility Oncor if its bid for Hawaiian Electric fails.
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