They say third try is a charm, and it was for me. First, I went to an invite-only HECO meeting which was a PR ploy to show us that HECO employees are locals too. I just left sad they were all at risk of losing their jobs if NextEra takes over. Then I went to the PUC listening session, in which HECO and NextEra (intervenors who were not supposed to participate) had employees, sub-contractors, recipients of charitable funds, and members of the union they just struck a deal with say how they just knew their bills would go down with NextEra. There was no way they could have known, since NextEra doesn’t know, but they do know who pays their bills today. There were even more people opposed, but still I left a bit sick to my stomach. Last night, I finally went to a meeting that left me feeling hopeful about Hawaii’s energy future.
Representative Chris Lee, Robert Harris (Sunrun), Henry Curtis (Life of the Land), Stanley Chang and Rebecca Soon (Pacific Solutions).
Rep. Chris Lee and some NGOs offered brief comments and then answered questions about the takeover and other options. Here are some things that struck me:
- It is not too lake to comment to the PUC. Email your concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org. For NextEra takeover, reference Docket #2015-0022. It will make a difference.
- Anyone (Nextera, Muni, or Co-op) who buys HECO does not bring cash savings, they take out a loan which is paid back by ratepayers, in addition to their payments for services. An astute participant pointed out that the ratepayers already paid for the utilities’ infrastructure the first time around, so now they were just buying the same stuff twice. At least with the Muni or co-op they won’t have to keep buying it every time the company changes ownership.
- Also, since Munis and Co-ops don’t have greater profit tied to greater costs, they have incentives to be more efficient and not to “gold plate” all the wiring.
- Other places the utility franchise granting a risk-free monopoly is NOT in perpetuity. There are fixed terms (like 5 years) and there is an open, competitive bid at the end of the term.
- Our legislature can get us out of our current not-very-good-deal to either condemn the existing franchise and set up limited terms, or to force a sale (if HECO is not willing).
- When I went to look up King Kalakaua’s original deal terms, I found he may not have been so naive after all. If you believe this site (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2013/10/hawaii-tried-to-end-heco-monopoly.html) he only granted 25 years and then Queen Liliokulani refused to re-affirm the deal and 5 days later was overthrown. Maybe this is not first time electric power has played an important role in Hawaii!
- In thinking about Co-ops: I heard that Kauai (a co-op since 2002) was a bust because it had the highest rates. What I learned (and confirmed) was that they had 60% higher rates when they became a co-op and they have closed the gap, kept rates flat since 2008 while the other islands have risen, and refunded $30 million to co-op members.
- In thinking about a Muni: I know everyone has negative stereotypes of our public sector, but having worked at the University and DOH in HIV/AIDS I have only encountered dedicated professionals with excellent results. I wonder if under-funded sectors with poor results give everyone a bad name. Regardless, a Muni could contract out different parts of the business. Production should be separated out no matter who owns the utility. But even management could be given on a fixed term contract to a rock-star Muni like Sacramento until we get the hang of it.
- Finally, as my father and I walked out of the meeting, he asked me who “this Chris Lee guy” was. He lives just outside of Chris’ district and I was pretty surprised by the question, so I asked what he meant. He said, “Well he is sticking his neck out and acting like a young, idealist guy trying to make changes. I am not used to seeing that, everything that comes out of our politicians is usually so bland like they are playing it safe.” I could only think to answer that for Chris maybe this particular career was not an end in itself, but just a means.