Tuesday, November 18, 2008


LOOSEN THAT COLLAR WILL YA?: The myth of the benefits of a garbage-to-energy incinerator we wrote about yesterday were further debunked today by energy advocate Ben Sullivan in a letter in today’s paper.

Sullivan, who lost the election to the Kaua`i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) board and was later rejected by the board to fill a vacant spot, apparently got a different answer from Walter Lewis than that the one which appeared in Lewis’s column in the paper Saturday as to the energy available in incineration of our garbage..

Upon questioning Lewis about his statement that “the benefits would be dramatic.”

Sullivan reports that Lewis privately told him instead that

“No reliable assessment can be made as to the user savings that might occur if a WRE supply contract were made. The variables include: the time when WRE output would commence; the price of oil at the time; the scope and terms of the WRE contract; and the accounting changes for KIUC if it ceases to be primarily a power generating utility. However, some range estimates could be permissible. Since the saving could be material, the public ought to be informed.”

Sullivan goes on to say:

As this is an opinion page, and we are certainly in need of solutions, I would like to offer one.

It is not solar, or wind, or biomass (although I do like the potential of hemp as a fuel). It is not the Small Wind Ordinance being proposed by Councilman Tim Bynum (although that’s certainly a good step in the right direction).

I would assert that we should all be capable of reducing our own electricity usage, through conservation and efficiency, by 50 percent. Now that would be a “silver bullet,” and would allow us to practice both discipline and action. I’m not there yet myself so I’m off to get to work on it.

While conservation is a must, one problem is that both Sullivan and Lewis- and anyone else who has had their ears and minds bent by the KIUC still-corporate spiel - apparently still buy into the for-profit model of an electricity utility.- one that says “we sell electricity to you.”

This KIUC mind-set was never more apparent than in the recent news that co-op members had topped out KIUC’s “net metering” percentage and now, anyone who now starts to generate their own electricity at home will not be able to take advantage of a program that allows them to “run the meter backward” at the same rate- or even a reasonable difference in rate- going in as coming out.

Not only that but the voice of KIUC is notable for it’s absence in trying to help its “customers” in moving away from their dependence on the co-op’s product by encouraging consumers to make their own electricity at home.

The KIUC party line goes that wind and solar are “intermittent” sources and therefore unreliable so will never be able to substitute for a system of selling electricity to you- electricity presumably generated by burning stuff whether fossil fuel or some other carbon and pollution spewing materials.

But the real problem is the way that, even though KIUC should be putting the consumers first, they are still looking at their business as that of selling enough electricity to maintain a corporate structure – a structure identical to the for-profit model only they refund the “profits” to the co-op members instead of shareholders.

Providing people with a way to actually decrease they bills is not just not job #1 it’s not on any list except for the one in the lip-service file.

The fact is that their prime objective is not to lower the costs of electricity to co-op members- something that, though it is more complicated than the current model, is achievable.

If every home generated it’s own electricity it could equal or even surpass Sullivan’s conservation in terms of savings. Solar roofs- not just solar panels but roofs that are made of solar harvesting materials- are common on the mainland where sun isn’t even as good a source as it is here.

And a windmill in every yard would decrease our bills further. The new ones make no noise at all.

And a revolving fund to finance loans that will be paid off in time with the savings needs only to be set up, modeled on the solar water heater programs.

That leaves the cooperative to use the current and developing technology to develop the models that will accommodate those cloudy days and times when the wind doesn’t blow as much by generating more at those times and less at others- not to throw up their hands and say “it’s too hard” as our company honchos have convinced the KIUC board is the case.

Today’s computer monitored “smart-grids” and modern use-sensitive generation units accommodate changes in demand all the time but for some reason Kaua`i seems incapable of innovation especially with the prospect of selling less electricity.

The decrease in the need for investment in new generation capability would be significant with a lot of little generation spots that add up to a lot. And utilities across the country are already experimenting- and having great success with electric rates that are higher when demand is higher and lower when it’s more available, a system that could, if structured to account for that availability at times of high sun and wind, allow consumers to use electricity when it’s available at a lower rate.

But instead all we hear from KIUC is “nope- trust us, it can’t be done”.

The main thing we need is the will to move away from the model that says when the going gets complicated and innovation is involved we throw up our hands and just revert to the safe and expensive for-profit model of selling energy to the consumer and stop doing what we can to empower the users to purchase less energy if not attain total energy independence.

Yes “we” paid way too much for Kaua`i Electric and that is what is costing us a bundle today in higher rates so we can pay back the loan.

And Kaua`i ratepayers- not the stock holders at Citizen’s Electric who took the risk of being uninsured- got stuck paying the entire cost of the Hurricane Iniki costs where money was essentially thrown at the repairs and cost wasn’t a factor until we got the bill...a bill we’re still getting every month.

But even working what we are unfortunately stuck with doesn’t mean that we have to be stuck with the same lazy thinkers that populate the board and high level staff at KIUC that got us into this mess.

We can elect people to the board who will shift their fiduciary responsibility from “the company” to the “members” but only if we chuck the for-profit model and put the consumer first by starting to think of how we can allow individuals the degree of energy independence that is technologically available today...the one members of a collectively owned co-op deserve.


But when you ask for the engineering particulars of why generation can’t just fill the gap at the times needed they go amazingly silent.

And that’s because the technology is here today to do it through a computerized modern generation system that measures needs and generation based on

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