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Hawaii governor's PUC appointment raises doubts over NextEra decision

Morequestions have risen over Hawaii Gov. David Ige's swift replacement of a PublicUtilities Commission member as an internal PUC document disclosed that at leasttwo members of the commission had reached a decision on 's proposedacquisition of Hawaiian ElectricIndustries Inc. before the governor's action.

Aninternal complaint that the will of the majority of the three-member commissionhad been thwarted surfaced when local TV station KHON2 on July 8 reported thatit had obtained an internal complaint that the governor- PUC Chairman Randy Iwase hadmaneuvered to block the majority decision from being issued until CommissionerMike Champley's term expired June 30.

Igereplaced Champleywith the commission's chief counsel, Tom Gorak, who had cooperated with Iwaseto block the majority decision, according to KHON2's description of thecomplaint. The television station did not disclose who wrote or filed thecomplaint, but quoted Champley as saying he did not submit it.

However,the complaint reportedly alleged that Iwase and Gorak denied Champley any legalstaff support to assist him in drafting the majority opinion.

Inexplaining the reasons for Champley's replacement, Ige said at a June 29 newsconference that Champley had disagreed with the previous commission chair andthat he wanted a commissioner who was more closely aligned with his ownpersonal beliefs.

Igehas opposed theNextEra/Hawaiian Electric merger, expressingthe belief that the Florida-headquartered company has not demonstrated acommitment to helping Hawaii reach its 100% renewable portfolio standard goalby 2045. Ige signedthe RPS legislation on June 8, 2015.

SenatePresident Ron Kouchi has questioned the legality of Gorak assuming officewithout Senate confirmation. Senators are seeking legal counsel whether thestate court system could intervene. In a July 6 , Kouchi asked state AttorneyGeneral Douglas Chin to respond to several legal questions concerning Gorak'sappointment.

Chinpreviously advisedIge that although he could make an interim appointment to the PUC withoutSenate confirmation, doing so could delay the NextEra case.

"However,we caution that such an appointment might delay the deliberations in theNextEra case and the appointment could face legal challenge because there is nodefinitive Hawaii case confirming that where there is a de jure holdover statute, a vacancy exists at the expiration of aterm of office to allow an interim appointment," Chin wrote the governor.

Kouchiis among senators who believe that the law requires Champley to remain inoffice as a holdover until the Senate convenes in early 2017, according toKHON2's June 30 report.

Despitereports prior to Gorak's appointment that the PUC was on the verge of making adecision in the NextEra/Hawaiian Electric case, there has been no further wordon when a decision will be made.

Champleywas quoted in the online publication Civil Beat on July 1 saying he was keepinghis options open and had not resigned from the PUC.

Hetold Civil Beat the commissioners need to have access to the commission's staffin order to make sound, independent decisions, but the report said Champley andCommissioner Lorraine Akiba had to obtain Iwase's approval to use staff legaland technical advisers.

Statestatute 269-3(a) designates the chair of the commission as having control overthe appointment and employ of PUC personnel.

Champleywas scheduled to participate in the Smart Electric Power Alliance's NationalTown Meeting on Demand Response and Smart Grid on July 12 in Washington, D.C.

NextErais seeking to acquire Hawaiian Electric subsidiaries , and Maui Electric Co. Ltd.,collectively known as the HECO companies.