LIHU’E — Even if state law didn’t require the state Public Utilities
Commission to regulate the Kaua’i Island Utility Co-op, the co-op would
voluntarily seek that PUC regulation, said Dick Heitman.
leader working toward a smooth transition from investor-owned Kaua’i Electric
to customer-owned KIUC in a $270 million sale awaiting PUC approval or denial,
addressed the regulation issue and others during a recent
“There’s a lot of things that are in the law that pretty much
require that we remain regulated by the PUC,” Heitman said.
“I don’t know
whether there ever will be a desire to be anything other than regulated,” he
said. “I think it would take a change in the law to allow that to
At various town meetings held to discuss the proposed sale,
opponents of the sale worried that the co-op could raise electric rates
immediately upon finalization of the sale if the PUC didn’t regulate
The PUC must approve most rate increases.
In the transfer documents
currently before the PUC, Kaua’i Electric and the co-op ask not only for PUC
approval of the sale, but for all KE rules, regulations (including PUC
regulation), tariffs and rates to remain the same after the sale is finalized.
Still, a bill in this year’s state Legislature that would have mandated
PUC regulation of utility cooperatives died in a state House
State Rep. Ezra Kanoho (D-13th District) said the bill was
killed in committee because the PUC and KIUC both believed the bill wasn’t
necessary because the co-op would fall under commission regulation
The bill was introduced near the deadline for proposing new
legislation, to make sure there was a bill in existence in case it was needed
to help the sale become a reality, Kanoho said.
A former Kaua’i Electric
worker, now retired, said his friends in the International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers (the union which represents many KE employees) who are
employed by Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO) say HECO company officials are hoping
KIUC fails, so Hawaiian Electric can buy KE for a lower price that HECO
According to a company spokesman, the bid by Hawaiian
Electric was substantially lower than the asking price for KE, so HECO didn’t
get invited to a second round of bidding.
The retired KE employee, speaking
anonymously, further said that if KIUC or anyone wants to get a truly accurate
assessment of how the people of Kaua’i feel about KIUC buying KE, some
questions should be put on an upcoming election ballot.
The questions would
be, in his view: Should KIUC pay $270 million to buy KE? Should KIUC pay $160
million to buy KE? and Should KIUC buy KE at all?
To get such questions on
a Kaua’i County ballot for the November general election would have required
the signatures of just over 16,000 registered voters who voted in the 1998
elections. The signatures had to be turned into the county clerk by the end of
The sale of Kaua’i Electric to the co-op for $270 million
needs PUC approval before it can be finalized, and buyer and seller have
petitioned the commission for that approval.
There is no timetable on when
the PUC might issue its decision, but the buyer and seller have requested a
decision by the end of September.
On another matter, some information
printed in a recent letter to the editor in The Garden Island indicated that in
the sale agreement between Citizens Communications (formerly Citizens
Utilities) and KIUC, there was a clause holding Citizens harmless for any
environmental damage the KE operations may cause or may have caused.
cost of cleaning up such an environmental mess could easily exceed the $270
million purchase price, according to the letter writer.
But Heitman, citing
the sale agreement, said the hold-harmless clause pertains only to co-op
representatives entering KE property to do environmental investigation.
those representatives are killed or injured during such investigations, KIUC
could not sue Citizens, he explained.
But as far as Heitman knows, if
Citizens pollutes, they can’t evade responsibility for that pollution.
don’t know what it’s like in the state of Hawai’i, but in the state of
Washington, you can’t get rid of that. If you’ve polluted, that’s your
liability,” said Heitman, who also wouldn’t feel at ease with KIUC assuming
environmental liability for all of Citizens’ actions in the past.
who managed an electric co-op in Washington state before coming here to lead
the transition team, reiterated an earlier statement that none of the KIUC’s
board members have put up any of their personal funds to help make the proposed
There was speculation that there was a $13.5 million,
non-refundable down-payment KIUC had to come up with — roughly 5 percent of
the proposed purchase price — and that the money came from individual board
“There was a 5-percent-down clause, that’s non-refundable under
certain conditions,” Heitman said. “But if the regulators say ‘no,’ nobody has
to pay that.”
The money exists as a letter of credit to KE from the
National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp., Heitman
According to documents presented to the PUC supporting the sale,
the depreciated book value of KE at the end of last year was just over $174
million, while the original cost of the KE assets as of the end of last year
was just under $280 million.
The difference between the book value and bid
price for KE — close to $100 million — has been a cause of concern for
federal, state and county officials who have gone on record opposing the
Co-op officials, however, contend:
* That properties
other than electrical utilities are often sold for prices higher than book
* That an unsuccessful bidder bid more than $270 million for
* And that at any price over $270 million, KIUC couldn’t make the deal
without raising customers’ electric rates.
Business Editor Paul C.
Curtis can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org