Sunday, April 7, 2013


SHOCKING REVERSAL: Another chapter from the "are you gonna believe me or your lyin' eyes" department today from an otherwise- or maybe we should say formerly- unimpeachable source.

In a letter-to-the-editor of today's local Kaua`i newspaper, former long-time Honolulu Advertiser Kaua`i Bureau Chief Jan TenBruggencate- who is now the Vice Chairman of the Kaua`i Island Utilities Cooperative (KIUC) Board of Directors- excoriates columnist Walter Lewis for a piece published in the paper on Friday.

In it Lewis basically describes how a bill headed for apparent passage in the 2013 state legislature would, in his estimation, allow KIUC to get out from under regulation by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

He leads his column by saying:

The state legislature is currently considering two companion bills — HB 815 and SB 1045 — which could remove the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) from much or all of its regulatory function as to cooperatives.

He goes on to say how basically KIUC doesn't act like a co-op- something we've covered extensively in this space- and cites many of the known debacles like the FERC, federally-controlled hydroelectric projects as well as pointing out many potential benefits of PUC oversight.

But in a colorful and many times personal attack on Lewis, TenBruggencate say that it is not true of the bill and that Walter, as usual in TenBruggencate's view, has it all wrong. Rather he says:

The bills take away no authority, and indeed give the PUC new authority over KIUC. That includes the authority to protect consumers by exempting KIUC from expensive regulatory dockets that don’t apply to cooperatives.

So who is right?

Well, as an aside, we must point out first that of course it would "take away no authority" if indeed "regulatory dockets don't apply to cooperatives."

But to directly address the conflict, maybe the "description" of the bill will tell us. The official "description" of SB1045 SD1 HD2 says that it:

Authorizes the Public Utilities Commission to waive or exempt an electric cooperative operating in the State from compliance with the provisions of chapter 269, Hawaii Revised Statutes, as well as any other applicable charters, franchises, rules, decisions, orders, or any other laws

Sounds clearly like Lewis has it right. Although if our "aside" is any indication there may be some wordsmithing going on in TenBruggencate's letter that could obscures the facts.

We would also add something that TenBruggencate might not know but that Lewis- who was one of those most responsible for saving members up to $80 million in the lead-up to the purchase of the utility- seems to have forgotten.

One of the other proposals at the time that Citizens' Utilities was trying to sell "Kaua`i Electric" was that, rather than setting up a co-op the county would set up a government owned and run utility. As a matter of fact, the Kaua`i County Charter contains a section, passed by voters, on how a "Municipal Power Authority (MPA)" would work.

But one of the reasons the co-op idea won out was that decision makers with the county- specifically County Council Chair at the time Kaipo Asing and then-Mayor Marianne Kusaka- together extracted a promise from the co-op's organizing board that they would abide by two things. The first was that they would adhere to the provisions of the State Sunshine law which an MPA would have had to do.

The second was to put themselves under the control of the PUC.

The first never happened. Like a promised beach access that is fenced as soon as the construction of a development is finished, the Sunshine Law provision was obliterated when the by-laws replaced the articles of incorporation. But nobody noticed because the "nit-pickers" were too busy going over so many other details of the purchase, using their time to follow the money rather than the process.

Actually the group of infamous council curmudgeons led by legendary activist Ray Chuan. appropriated the name at the time when they were disparagingly given it by Kusaka for what she called the "nit-picking" the of the deal- nit-picking which later led up to the revised price.

And now the part of about the putting themselves under PUC regulation is about to be eliminated like the fence that goes up across the beach access when the development is sold... no matter what our good friend Jan says and how much virtual spittle he got on his letter.

Unless there's some provision in the current text of the bill itself to reverse 180 degrees the purpose/description- something we can't find but which would make the bill invalid at any rate because a bill is supposed to reflect it's original description- it appears that the one who has a "gross misunderstanding" is our good friend Jan, not Walter of whom we are more often critical than anything else... unless that is there are some clever semantics going on on the part of our pal with the skilled pen

We invite you to read the bill and both Lewis' and TenBruggencate's opposing "opinions" and decide.

It feels funny for the "Rabid Reporter" to be criticizing the great mainstream, "objective" journalist but apparently there seems to be a "fiduciary matter" that has turned the worm.

As they say, you're entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts; the description of the bill seems to indicate that this time for once it's Walter who has a firm handle on those nasty little facts.

1 comment:

Mauibrad said...

Well Mina Morita and all of the Kauai Council supports this, with their testimony. That says something. I know that things like rate cases cost KIUC close to a million dollars last time and they effectively lost it. KIUC has not really shown that they can responsibly go without regulation, but they also don't look like they can afford to be regulated like the other electric utilities in Hawaii. Side note, HEC is considering spinning off MECO into a Coop like KIUC, I suppose that is if this bill passes. Looks like this bill passing is almost a done deal.