Wednesday, March 23, 2011


LET IT FLOW: The palpable disappointment of many in the wake of the defeat of Pat Gegen and Ken Stokes in the recent Kaua`i Island Utilities Coop (KIUC) Board of Directors' election serves for some as another example of voter apathy and the elections-as-popularity-contest syndrome.

But what can we expect when those who walk the walk like Gegen and Stokes have to compete with those who simply talk the talk like the three reelected incumbents who have led us nowhere when it comes to the twin goals of switching to non-carbon renewable energy and lowering electric bills?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (what's a record grandpa?) the real issue has never really been discussed by candidates, including incumbents supported by the progressive community like Ben Sullivan, Carol Bain and Jan TenBruggencate.

It's really the core of KIUC's governance that's at issue- their very business plan... one based on the concept of "we sell you electricity."

That remnant of the for profit Citizen’s Electric enterprise model persists today even though the "shareholders" have disappeared to be replaced by members.

That means that the infamous "fiduciary responsibility" that board members are constantly reminded of, is to the members and their best interest, not the growth of the "company" in order to accommodate a self-perpetuating vision of a "selling electricity" future.

Even in terms of non-carbon renewables the talk is of borrowing money from the federal government to use for something called "PACE" bonds which will enable the construction of large scale solar farms and the selling of "shares" when what the coop should be doing is facilitating ways to accommodate self-generation in people's homes through solar, wind and other emerging self-contained technologies.

Instead the coop has taken a stance supporting caps on direct "net metering" where excess power is fed into the grid and, upon demand, back to the user at the same rate both ways in favor of exorbitant "feed in tariffs" that make the buy back of the power created by home generators far more costly than it need be.

The bugaboo of "intermittency"- as in what do you do when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn’t blow"- is simply a red herring with other emerging technologies in storage and distribution- technologies to which KIUC seems so risk-averse that it will never happen until the rest of the world is way ahead of us... as they already are in places in Northern Europe like Germany and Sweden.

Instead of being THE leaders in a state that touts itself as a leader in solar and wind, the most potentially progressive of utility governance structures- our coop- is in fact bringing up the rear and foot dragging on the dual goals stated above.

Instead of discouraging home generation and forcing those who want to "invest" in solar or wind join large scale ventures, our coop should be offering zero percent loans to construct windmills and solar installations in people's yards and on their homes and allow members to pay them off monthly with a charge on their bills equitable to what they pay now.

The fact is that instead of encouraging self-sufficiency the board enters into power purchase agreements at prices tagged to inflated fossil fuel costs rather than the actual cost of the alternative generation itself.

Next election, ask your candidate how they view the business model and how they would serve the goals of lowering the amount we pay while encouraging carbon-free energy. And if their answers are more of the same, remember- that that's exactly what we'll get.

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