Florida-based NextEra pulls out of Hawaii energy projects

By Cathy Bussewitz, Associated Press

 

HONOLULU (AP) — Florida-based NextEra Energy is further cutting its ties with Hawaii after ending its plans to merge with Hawaiian Electric.

The company pulled out of several projects including a study exploring the possibility of an undersea power cable between Oahu and Maui, which could — if eventually built — help the state meet its renewable energy goals.

They also pulled out of a proposed wind farm on Lanai that has stalled in recent years.

Hawaiian Electric hasn't pulled out of any of the plans, which are mostly in the conceptual phase, said spokesman Darren Pai. The study of the possible undersea cable is ongoing, he said.

NextEra's departure from the solar and undersea cable discussions won't have a negative impact on the state's ability to meet its goal of generating 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, said Randy Iwase, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, on Thursday.

"There are other projects out there that continue to be approved," Iwase said. "It's not a setback. We just keep going."

Meanwhile, Hawaiian Electric is moving on with its own plans to build a 20-megawatt solar facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which will generate electricity for customers on- and off-base.

"This is a win-win for our customers and all around," Pai said.

Hawaiian Electric plans to build, own and operate the facility, and hopes it will be operational by 2018. But the project has not yet been approved by the Public Utilities Commission, so an operational date will depend on how long it takes to get approval, he said.

If approved, it would be the second-largest solar farm in development on Oahu, after a project in Waianae, he said.

Critics would rather see Hawaiian Electric buy power from outside companies instead of building its own power facilities, so the company doesn't favor its power facility over others, said Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land.

"The utility should move toward transmission only and they should get out of generation," Curtis said.

NextEra also pulled out of a regulatory proceeding to review Hawaiian Electric's "Power Supply Improvement Plan," a review that some describe as planning the energy infrastructure for the state.

That withdrawal was expected after the failed merger, but it's significant because NextEra would have had a lot of influence over the way things were built out in Hawaii, said state Rep. Chris Lee.

"The plan's been criticized in the past because it relied very heavily on maintaining the fossil fuel generation fleet for considerable amount of time, instead of focusing on leveraging new technology and new rate designs to much more cheaply move toward renewable power here in Hawaii," Lee said.

NextEra spokesman Rob Gould declined to comment.

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