LIHU’E — Kaua’i Electric manager Denny Polosky isn’t particularly worried
about the outcome of a lawsuit filed by a citizens’ group last year that could
stall progress on the utility’s new Hanama’ulu power plant.
“I think we
have a very good case. I think these people that are protesting this thing are
off-base,” Polosky said, adding that he expects a decision from the court later
“So we’re still pursuing 390 (Amfac Sugar Kaua’i’s former field
390 site) as the most appropriate site” for the Lihu’e Energy Service Center
Citizens for Clean Air has appealed the county Planning
Commission’s decision to allow KE to construct the plant on the grounds that
the commission failed to follow various state and county laws when it reached
its Sept. 9 decision to approve permits for the plant.
The utility is
holding county permits necessary to move forward with the project (subdivision
approval is the next step), but is awaiting the court’s decision on the
“We think we can get it done,” Polosky said. “We’re optimistic that
we need to pursue field 390 to the end, and we’re going to get that done this
Among the reasons why the power plant is critical to KE and the
island is that KE doesn’t know how long Amfac Sugar Kaua’i and Lihu’e
Plantation (LP) will remain in business, Polosky said.
If Amfac Sugar
Kaua’i and LP cease operations, KE will lose 14 megawatts of power LP’s mill
generates for KE.
“We’re concerned about what’s happening at Kekaha (Amfac
Sugar Kaua’i closing the former Kekaha Sugar mill), and then, what will happen
at Lihu’e eventually. And when that does, we’re not going to have this 14
megawatts available,” he said.
“And, eventually, that will happen. We know
“If and when they go out of business, we need the power immediately.
So that’s one of the reasons that we contracted with Kauai Power Partners for
this new unit,” he said.
“If they go out of business, we only have a short
time to get something in to replace that. Because we’re behind our adequacy of
supply if they go out and they stop sugar,” he said.
By state Public
Utilities Commission (PUC) regulations, KE must have enough reserve power to
provide electricity for the island even if its largest generator goes down.
Without LP’s power, KE would be below that reserve-power threshold.
actually sold more energy this year (1999) than we did the year before, and the
year before that. So we’re growing,” said Polosky.
And, with new projects
like the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club, Coco Palms, Alexander & Baldwin’s
Kukui’ula project, and the Puhi middle school, among others, coming on line, KE
is responsible for ensuring an adequate supply of electricity.
very large loads that come on our system all at once,” Polosky said.
rates won’t go up: The good news is that there will be no increase this year in
what KE customers pay for a kilowatt-hour (kwh) of electricity.
news is that, because of increases in the cost of gas and oil, the energy
adjustment on customers’ bills has risen.
Laws allow KE to pass on directly
to customers charges related to increases in the price of oil, which the
company burns to generate electricity.
“It has gone up recently,” said
Jenny Fujita, head of public relations at KE, speaking on the energy
When oil prices go down, as they did last year, consumers see
lower bills as a result of that same energy adjustment line item on bills, she
Employees await news of sale: “The employees are curious about who
the new owner will be, and curious about what changes may occur once that new
ownership takes place, which wouldn’t be immediate, because there are
regulatory approvals,” said Fujita.
“I would say there is generally a mood
of curiosity, a sentiment of curiosity, right now. And I think, just in
general, at a time when there are so many changes going on in our company and
so many large issues right now, that there is a feeling of uncertainty,” she
“But it’s a normal feeling, I think, during a time of change,” she
“We all are anxious to hear,” Polosky said. “The uncertainty, I’m
sure, bothers some employees here, about not knowing who it is, who’s the new
owner or will be, but you need to press on and do what we need to do to provide
customers with service.”
The Gas Company (Gasco and Gaspro) is also for
sale as part of Citizens Utilities’ divestiture of its water, electric, gas and
wastewater utilities in favor of investment in telecommunications lines across
The Gas Company has less than 20 employees on
Highest rates : KE’s customers pay around 19 cents per kwh of
electricity used, which is among the highest in the United States.
probably have some of the highest rates in the country,” Polosky acknowledged,
adding that other islands in the Pacific and other parts of the world probably
have much higher rates than Kaua’i does.
The Big Island’s Hawaiian Electric
Light Industries has filed with the state Public Utilities Commission for a
rate increase which, if approved, would make the Big Island’s rates higher than
“What I know is that, for like places, in other words islands,
Long Island is as high if not higher than we are, and Guam is very similar,
too. I think they’re higher than we are,” Fujita said.
On O’ahu, the
average family uses over 650 kwh a month, while on Kaua’i an average family
uses about 480 kwh a month. Kaua’i’s residential average usage is the lowest in
the state, Polosky said.
“We’re very conservative users,” Fujita said. “And
I think that has actually gone down,” she said of Kaua’i’s average monthly
“We’ve become more conservative over time,” with the monthly
average household usage last year closer to 500 kwh.
The average family’s
electric bill is around $100, which Polosky says is probably similar to many
other areas in the country.
KE hit its peak load during a weekend day in
November last year, at 70 megawatts (MW), lower than the 1998 peak of 72 MW,
From one point of view, Polosky wishes people used more
electricity on the island. If more people use more electricity, the per-unit
cost would come down, he explained, “because we’d use the same generators to