Tuesday, September 13, 2011


NOW YOU'RE COOKIN' WITH SUNLIGHT: When Gary Hooser was the Kaua`i State Senator he used to spend the time between sessions asking constituents to help him come up with a "big idea"- some legislation for which he could use his position to really make a difference.

So in 2004 he managed to spend his political capital to pass a bill requiring all new homes to have solar hot water heaters.

It's of course a no brainer- it's without dispute known far and wide as the "low hanging fruit" that pays for itself quickly to provide carbon-free hot water- the most expensive part of a family's energy bill- resulting in free hot water for many years.

But of course nothing worth doing comes easy and the gas company is a huge campaign contributor with lobbyists 'o plenty. So when the bill was finally passed it contained the possibility of a "variance" which turned into a loophole that has been used in about half of all new homes on Kaua`i and the Big Island- and a quarter state wide- to thumb their noses at the law and the environment and use a gas hot water heater instead.

So when the Kaua`i County Council took up a measure to join the rest of the counties in asking the legislature to close the loophole it too sounded like a no brainer.

But for some reason, other than Councilperson JoAnn Yukimura who had introduced the request, when testimony started the others were talking about "eliminating choices" and "options." Kipukai Kuali`i kept pounding on a representative from the alternative energy proponents at Apollo Kaua`i trying to get him to admit that maybe in the future there will be some kind of magical solar electric generation that would be more efficient- an absurd notion since the efficiency of using electricity no matter where it comes from will never be able to match the efficiency of directly heating water with the sun.

It doesn’t matter where the electricity comes from. Using it is still never going to be more economically efficient than direct heat.

So what was going on here. Where was this coming from?

Well it all became clear once the real lobbying began.

First it was the Kaua`i Gas Company GM Glen Takinoshi who came forward to stumble through a prepared text using now familiar terms like "options" and "providing choices" and essentially saying that if the loophole were to be closed The Gas Company could- gasp, perish the thought- go out of business.

When Yukimura basically left Takinoshi a babbling idiot after questioning him about the Gas Company's attitudes toward renewable carbon free energy and global warming- after which he finally said he'd have to check with someone else- they brought in the big gun...the state Vice President of Government Affairs and Communications Stephanie Ackerman whose "are you gonna believe me or your lyin' eyes" testimony was quite effective on the council bumpkins.

Just as Yukimura had run circles around Takinoshi, Ackerman ducked, danced and jabbed trying to make the debate about "personal freedoms" and the big, bad government that wants to take them away from us.

Finally Councilmember Tim Bynum stepped forward to say that sometimes it's the job of government- especially one in a place set to be inundated by the ocean in the not so distant future and one who pays the highest energy prices in the country- to step in and take control from the business lobbyists. He also explained how the more ubiquitous solar hot water heaters are, the less the electric co-op would be required to spend on excess generation capacity to accommodate "peak demand"- a major component of our bills on a "closed grid" island system.

Of course there was no identification of the two as "lobbyists" as council rules explicitly require and Chair Jay Furfaro- whose hair ignites every time a rule limiting public testimony is even stretched- said nothing.

But you gotta admire the nerve of the Gas Company for trying to move people to pity them because they may go out of business.

No, it's not just that they are sole purveyors of propane in the islands and the elimination of companies who sell fossil fuels because there is no longer a demand would bring glee to the hearts of all but the staunchest of climate change deniers. No, it's not even that the claim that they'd go bust is absurd on the face of it since people will still use propane for cooking, clothes drying and even as the back-up system of choice for solar water heater owners.

It's that, more so than any business in the islands- even other monopolies- every customer has a deep and abiding hatred for the Gas Company.

It's not just the way, unlike say the electric, phone and cable companies, they will never ever give you a break on the due date of your bill. It's not just that their prices are marked up outrageously, even when compared to gasoline providers.

No, it's the fact that every single person who works there treats their customers like dirt and with a "what do we care- you've got to buy from us" attitude- an affectation for which every customer seems to have an anecdotal horror story.

When local people talk story about asshole businesses on Kaua`i, the topic always turns to the Gas Company- which not only won't ever deliver gas unless and until your bill is paid in full but will come to your house and remove your remaining gas if you don't pay on time.

And they're uniformly nasty about it to boot.

We've heard people suggest that they must have to pass some kind of anti-customer relations test or attend classes teaching them how to snarl and be generally grumpy and uncooperative.

And these are the guys who are now asking us to have pity on them because closing the loophole in the law requiring solar hot water heaters on new homes will hurt their business.

Even if they were the nicest, most pleasant people in on the island and bent over backward to allow long-time customers an extra day or two to pay their bills, there'd be little sympathy for a fossil fuel company that cried crocodile tears over the possibility that cheap alternative, carbon-free energy would put them out of business.

But when it comes to the Gas Company, we suspect there would be a long line for the opportunity to dance on its grave.

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