Utility Democracy and Justice for All
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Hawaii’s NextEra/HECO Merger Fails:
Achieving RPS By Aligning Programs with Policy
While in Hawaii, I visited Hawaii State Representative Chris Lee (D- District 51), who Chairs the Committee On Energy and Environmental Protection, in his office in the State Legislature. A inspiring and persuasive young legislator, Lee’s constituency includes the communities of Kailua, Waimanolo, Lanikai and Keolu, at southeastern tip of Oahu’s North Shore.
Lee explained the Hawaii Public Utilities’ Commission’s rejection last year of Next Era’s (the holding company that owns Florida Power & Light) bid to acquire HECO (the Hawaiian Electric Company) as, “ . . . a straightforward takeover of one centralized Investor Owned Utility by another. HECO is not well-liked because its rates are the highest in the nation and their outreach to the public has been pretty dismal. But NextEra was seen as HECO on steroids.”
Rep. Lee described the public reception of their merger, “HECO was for it. Almost everyone else was against it: the State Consumer Advocate, the State, the Counties (Counties = islands) and the Legislature, even the union. HECO flipped the Union (IBEW Local 20) by promising ‘no layoffs’; they also reached out to their own board members who sit on other boards, and got Chamber of Commerce. And the Utility also got some support from organizations who recieved grant funds from HECO.”
Representative Lee notes that NextEra failed to make a strong case. “You’ve seen it: a utility comes in from outside, all ready to take over, they file thousands of pages with the PUC. They make a lot of claims. Consumers will immediately receive $65 million in benefits from the deal. Total savings for consumers will exceed $1 billion. But there were no real commitments, and no plans. Our PUC was in hearings for two months (to determine if NextEra’s claims were supported) . . . but there was just very little there: they did commit to no layoffs for 2 years after the acquisition . . . But their plans for grid modernization . . . no commitment, no plans. One NextEra executive claimed it would cost in excess of $30 billion to meet Hawaii’s RPS Standard of 100% production of energy from renewables by 2045— none of our estimates reflected anything close to this.”
Lee cited spending on advertising and PR efforts in support of the merger at about $22 million, saying “We knew that when the deal was announced its approval was polling at about 45%; I organized the statewide grass roots press conference that was the most diverse and widely attended event on the issue, with 40 state legislators, Chairs of County councils, and Neighborhood Boards. We announced that after 18 months and$22 million spent by the utilities, public support for the deal had fallen to 16%.”
Recently, Lee introduced House Bill No. 1566 whose text adopts (the bill’s language appears in bold italics) a, “ ‘substantial net benefit’ as the standard for a transfer or assignment of an electric utility and specify certain guidelines to address when examining whether a “substantial net benefit” exists.” Or, as Lee puts it, “This forces anyone who wants to acquire a utility to show their cards up front. They’d better make a damn good case, because they must prove a substantial public benefit, as the price of admission.” Lee is confident of the support of the State Consumer Advocate and the PUC for this bill.
Two other bills by Representative Lee will resonate for DC’s consumers and ratepayers. Hawaii House BillNo. 1283, the “Ratepayer Protection Act” has a stated purpose of , (bill text in bold italics) “ . . . ensuring that the existing utility business and regulatory model is updated for the twenty-first century by requiring that . . . rates are derived from a performance-based model for determining utility revenues.”
Hawaii House Bill No. 1569’s purpose is to: “ . . . minimize conflicts of interest in the grid planning process by using appropriate data to establish a plan through an independent third party, which all stakeholders may review and comment on at public hearings.”
In answer to a question about the level of energy education among Hawaii’s elected officials, Representative Lee acknowledged, “I don’t think many of my colleagues are well educated about energy.” “So, how do get support for all of this energy legislation?” I countered.
“Easy” he shot back. “One thing made it all possible.”
What?” I asked, innocently.
“Rooftop Solar. We have the highest electric rates in the US. My voters all have a neighbor (more than 1 residential home in 3 in Hawaii is solarized) with solar, they see him and think, ‘That guy with all the panels pays $17 a month, and I’m paying hundreds. But not any more, I’m going solar too.’ What legislator’s going to fight legislation that makes that possible for their constituents?”
Lee shared another series of insights I had not considered: first, he noted that while solar is well past grid parity in the Hawaiian islands, HECO’sdistribution and generation systems are fast becoming “stranded”. More importantly, government in Hawaii is rapidly aligining its policies and programs to achieve the state’s RPS goals (already saving Hawaiians over $250 million). Add to this, the fact that HECO’s #1 Customer — the US Military — is on track to become a net zero energy consumer. Its #2 Customer, the State Government has decreed its University system and its K through 12 schools are to become net zero by 2035. Now the state’s big employers are doing the math and followng suit. (Apparently, the PUC is set to order time-of-use energy rates.)
Representative Lee closed with a passionate summation that I can only try to do justice to:
“Initially, when Rooftop Solar took offback in, like, 2011 - 2012, wealthier communities were the early adopters taking advantage of it, but a saturation point was quickly reached in those communities. Since then, it has been low- and middle-income communities that have benefited the most, and where we still see the most growth. And with respect to policies, when you talk about what’s coming next with storage and programmatic rate design, the Mantra is definitely a distrbuted network and behind-the-meter installations of power generation and storage. So, everyone benefits because we avoid building that “Power Peaker Plant” that costs hundreds of millions . . . We have a bill that’s alive in the legislature that would allow carve-outs for microgrids on education campuses. The Department of Education has 5 schools, and they have completed studies and analyses to create microgrids on those campuses and expand them to the surrounding communities. Because our schools also serve as disaster shelters and civil defense centers — it just makes so much sense! As for policies that explicitly focus on low and middle-income communities, we’re looking now at a tiered rebate for energy storage, so that if you are low-, or middle-income, you benefit more than someone who is not. We definitely want to get it right this time for everyone . . .
It is an inspiration to see a community more diverse even than ours, one with fewer resources and more entrenched obstacles to energy self-sufficiency, producing leaders like Representative Chris Lee who are equal to the task. And how refreshing to see a government that is identifying strategies to make those policies work and implementing them.
Chair, DC Consumer Utility Board
Meet The CUB Board & Members
Robert Robinson, Chair
Robert Robinson came to DC after 18 months organizing elections in Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio for the the Jimmy Carter Presidential campaign. He hired onto the Marion Barry for Mayor campaign in 1977 and worked as an administrator for the Executive Office of the Mayor agencies. He managed successful Council campaigns and a council member’s staff. He and his wife Sherrill went solar with the Mt. Pleasant Solar Coop and became founding members of DC Solar United Neighborhoods. “You know,” said Robinson, “we’re the part of DC’s grass roots with a clear vision and a commitment to a sustainable future that produces cheaper, cleaner and safer energy, water-and-sewer, telecommunications,and broadband services for all. This is the future everyone in our community deserves. But we need elected officials and regulators who share this inclusive vision, and are willing to hold the utilities accountable to DC’s ratepayers and residents, and taxpayers.”
Judi Jones, Vice President
Judi Jones is a native Washingtonian with MBA’s in International Business and Computer Information Science Systems (CISS). Judi taught 20+ years as a high school classroom teacher in DC and Maryland. She reaches globally using study tours as an avenue to diverse cultures and business lectures. Judi acts locally by supporting her hometown serving 7 consecutive terms as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC). During her tenure as ANC, Judi has overseen the building of a new recreation center, expanded school choice in her single member district, supported single family home development, testified about the new Zoning Regulations, the Metro Legacy Memorial, the Pepco Exelon merger, and held monthly Single Member District (SMD) meetings throughout her tenure as ANC. She is a member of Consumer Utility Board (CUB), N4N.org and other civic and community organizations.
Larry Martin, Treasurer
Larry Martin has been a DC resident since 1986, now living with his wife and daughter in Ward 4. He has pursued public service to advance his view that a sustainable and healthy city must minimally address four priorities – education, energy policy, transportation policy, and resource management. In the late `80s and 1990 he worked on the staff of DC Council members Hilda Mason and Nadine Winter. He has been active on various legislative initiatives over the years including MSW & recycling, Renewable Portfolio Standards, the Clean and Affordable Energy Act, and most recently the Community Renewable Energy Act. From 2000-2006 he was the chair of the Environmental Planning Commission, appointed by the chair of the DC Council Committee on Public Works. In 2008 he served as the chair of the Transportation Planning Board’s Citizen Advisory Commission, appointed by the D.C. Council & TPB Chair. He served as the environmental theme lead for the 2006 Fenty mayoral campaign, and was appointed to the Sustainable Energy Utility Advisory Board by Mayor Fenty, and elected as vice chair in 2012. From 2009 to 2014 he served as the chair of the DC Sierra Club Energy Committee. In 2014 he was a subcontractor on the development of the DC Comprehensive Energy Plan. He was also a co-founder of Community Forklift and served as the chair of the Board of Sustainable Community Initiatives, the organizational home of Community Forklift, a DC 501-C3, between 2008 and 2016.
Joyce Robinson-Paul, Second Vice President
Joyce Robinson-Paul matriculated at Howard University as a Sociology Major. Continuing student at UDC. Graduated from the George Washington University Neighborhood College. Served as a member of the Consumer Utility Board for over 30 years. Served 8 terms as an elected ANC Commissioner in Wards 2 and 5. Testified at City Council and Public Service Commission for affordable utility rates for many years. Before retiring served as a Program Director, Community Outreach Specialist and Community Organizer in the Shaw Urban Renewal Area. Received numerous awards and certificates of Appreciation from PTSA, Civic and Community groups. Served as a Community partner in building Dunbar Sr High School.
Andrea Molod, Secretary
Andrea Molod, Ph.D. has been a District resident for 30 years, and a homeowner for much of that time. In addition to being a member of the DC Consumer Utilities Board, she is currently the ANC3F05 representative, served as co-organizer of the Ward 3 group solar purchase, and is on the board of DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN).
Dr. Molod obtained her doctorate in atmospheric science at Johns Hopkins University, and has worked work for 30 years as a climate scientist with NASA. Her priorities and community activities include the education and training of young women in science and engineering, and ensuring energy sustainability for the future of DC residents.
Sherrill Berger, Member
Born in Uvalde, Texas, but raised in Washington, DC. Sherrill studied classical ballet at the Jones-Haywood School and later danced as a principle soloist and taught with the well-acclaimed Capitol Ballet Company (CBC).
While performing at CBC she joined the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History rising from secretary to the position of executive assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Science.
Her facility in administration led her to be a educational tour guide with the Smithsonian Associate International Study Tours in Asia, and Europe. As an Administrative Officer, she oversaw the administrative operations at the Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology, Center for the Study of Man, Handbook of North American Indians, and Archives of American Art.
Three years later, she joined the Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington, DC. as a prospect researcher, fundraiser, and event planner. She was instrumental in establishing the Capital Science Lecture Series. Thereafter, she directed several non-profit organizations - Saving the DC Public Libraries Renaissance Project, the Mount Pleasant, Brookland, and Bloomingdale neighborhood Main Streets.
As a community activist she was a member of Neighbors Inc., Development Corporation of Columbia Heights, founding member of Mount Pleasant Solar Coop, DC Sun, PowerDC, Grid 2.0, and co-founder of the re-established DC Consumer Utility Board
Michele A. Tingling-Clemmons, Member
Michele Tingling Clemmons, a New Yorker, Ward 7 resident, former ANC Commissioner and Council candidate, worked as Bureau Chief of the DC Department of Health's Community Health Administration’s Nutrition and Health programs. She has organized communities, designed and run programs, and advocated for empowerment through good health, nutrition, recreation and access to healthcare in DC since the '80s. She has served on numerous coordinating and advisory councils and written widely on these issues. Michele, husband Rick, and their brilliant and beautiful kids are the soul of Central Avenue, NE and its Civic Association. Michele has been working in a JD Program at the UDC School of Law; did graduate work in Education at CCNY and matriculated at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
Peter Espenschied, Member
Peter Espenschied has been a civic activist in Ward 3 for 30 years, focused mainly on utility regulation, homelessness, and transportation. I served 3 terms on Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Cleveland Park. I have been an active member of the CUB for some 25 years, and served as its vice chairman and then as its acting chairman. I was directly involved in the successful opposition to Pepco’s attempt to enlarge its generation plant at River Terrace, and was part of CUB’s successful opposition to the merger of Pepco with Baltimore Gas and Electric (1995).
I have recently moved to Deanwood, in Ward 7, where I am serving on committees of the ANC and the Deanwood Citizens Association.
Lenwood Johnson, Member
Lenwood Johnson, a DC native served Ward One for twenty years an ANC Commissioner from the Pleasant Plains neighborhood. After leaving the ANC is 2012, he continued to serve the community as Secretary of the Pleasant Plains Civic Association, and as a member of the DC Democratic State Committee. Johnson earned a BA degree in journalism from Howard University. "I wanted to serve on the CUB" Johnson notes, "because I saw the utilities asking for -- and getting -- rate hikes as customer service and reliability plummeted, while they divested its jobs and assets in DC. I want to stop utility costs becoming another tool for gentrification in DC.
John Macgregor, Member
John was an economist and planner for the World Bank from 1979 to 2004. His work there involved policy analysis and assistance strategy, substantial economic and financial analysis of projects across many sectors, and econometric analysis of long-term trends including the effects of climate change. After retiring from the World Bank, he worked pro bono on a number of energy-related initiatives and community service activities. He has been a member of DC Climate Action since its inception in 2006 and through it worked on a wide variety of utility cases and clean energy-related legislation. He was trained in Government/International Relations at Harvard College (BA), in International Agricultural Development at University of California, Davis (MS), and in Applied Economics at Stanford University (MA, ABD).
Delvone Michael, Member
Delvone Michael, familiar to many as Director of DC Working Families, that works to improve living wage, labor and quality of life standards for US families, nationwide. He was a leader of PowerDC that fought the Exelon takeover of Pepco.
A lawyer, with a Masters in Political Science from GWU, Delvone matriculated from Norfolk State, Delvone crisscrosses the US for Working Families advising candidates in local, state, and federal political campaigns, living wage, and other ballot initiatives.
Jerome Paige, Member
Jerome S. Paige, a Ph.D. economist, has written papers and reports on policy issues in the District of Columbia: housing development, neighborhood revitalization, financial control boards, economic development, supermarket development, public utilities, energy, citizen participation, and political structures. He is a member of the advisory board of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. His past boards and commissions have included: D.C. Zoning Code Advisory Committee; D.C. Rental Accommodations Commission (Vice Chair); D.C. Education Licensure Commission; D.C. Citizens Energy Advisory Commission; D.C. Community Humanities Council (Co-Chair); D.C. Historical Society; D.C. Consumer Utility Board (First Vice Chair); D.C. Tax Revision Commission; Ward 4 Committeeman to the DC Democratic State Committee; the Civic League of North Portal Estates (Past-President). He has held academic and administrative positions at the University of the District of Columbia, the University of Baltimore, and the National Defense University. He is the principal in his economic consulting firm, Jerome S. Paige & Associates, LLC.
Jim Shulman, Member
Jim Schulman, AIA - active DC CUB member since the late '90's, well before the electrical utility restructuring that the recent Exelon takeover of Pepco has to some extent undone!
Jim serves as Treasurer of the Building Materials Re-use Association, a North American non-profit that promotes the salvage, reuse, and recycling of building materials for environmental, economic, and social reasons. He was the Founder of Community Forklift, a used building materials store in Prince George's County. He also represented a part of Northeast DC on Capitol Hill as a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. Jim is currently developing a co-op called the Alliance for Regional Cooperation to promote regional goods, services, & arts to regional businesses, institutions, and consumers.
Become a Member today!
Membership is free and helps us show that a massive number of people in DC want better service from utilities. To become a member, visit our membership page here www.dcconsumerutilityboard.org/become-a-member.
We’re looking for a diverse, committed group of volunteersincluding those willing to attend public hearings and take notes, to plan and staff events, and to offer specialized skills (lawyers, tech, social media, and accountants). For more and to volunteer, go to this page www.dcconsumerutilityboard.org/volunteer.
All Members of dcCUB are invited to share their concerns about and suggestions for improving utility costs and services, making regulatory reforms, or for dcCUB programs and activities, at our regular board meetings scheduled on the first Tuesday of each month from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm, held at the Grange Building, 1616 H Street, NW in the first floor Board Room.
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