Electric power charter amendment gains support

A county charter amendment proposal to create an electric power authority to run Kauai Electric, should Kaua’i County buy the utility, generally drew favor from speakers at a county meeting yesterday.

But audience members, attending a public hearing the council sponsored at the historic County Building, questioned the need to have government representatives sit on the power authority’s board.

Critics say there should be no government involvement because the proposal calls for the power authority to operate separately from government.

Related to the charter amendment proposal, Mayor Maryanne Kusaka proposed a resolution to the council, which if approved, would be put on the November general election ballot, though Kusaka has said the county has no plans to buy the utility at this time.

However, she said having the power authority in place would allow the county to negotiate the sale of the utility should a bid by Kauai Island Utility Co-op to buy the utility for $215 million fail.

KIUC has agreed to buy the utility from Citizens Communications, a Connecticut-based company that is selling the utility to focus its attention on its telecommunications business.

The state Public Utilities Commission must approve the sale before it becomes final.

Fred Well, a supporter of the charter amendment proposal, said a power authority working with the city of Palo Alto, California has produced the lowest electricity rates in California in the past.

The service to consumers has been “excellent,” Wells added.

If such a system worked that well in the California city, it could work just as well on Kaua’i, Wells said.

Another supporter of the proposal, Glenn Mickens of Kapa’a, said that “ideally the authority would be completely autonomous from regular county operations and act in a business rather than a government mode,” as a way to keep electricity rates low and service to customers high.

He said the proposal has nothing to do with the proposed co-op purchase of the utility, but “simply acts as an insurance policy” for the county to negotiate the sale of the utility if conditions call for it.

Fred Lewis, a critic of the proposed co-op sale, said he was a member of a committee assembled by Kusaka that looked at the sale of the utility to Kaua’i residents.

Although committee members offered differing views as to whether the co-op or the county should run the utility, committee members unanimously supported the idea of a power authority and drafted a charter amendment calling for its creation, Lewis said.

A member of the committee, Chick Lanphier, said that if the co-op bid to buy the utility fails, voter approval of the charter amendment would allow the power authority to negotiate a lower sale price than the $215 million price tag.

Lanphier said he favored putting the charter amendment proposal on the November ballot and that “if you have to, tweak it (refine it), but be prepared.”

Another supporter of the proposal said the benefits derived from a power authority would be Kaua’i County’s “lasting legacy” to its citizens.

She said the issue of the sale of the Kauai Electric to either the co-op or to Kaua’i County is of deep concern to residents.

People at island supermarkets have gotten into “heated” discussions over the issue, she said.

In opposition to the proposal, Robert Measel Jr. said the measure is flawed and should be “thrown in the garbage can.”

The proposal is begin advocated by mayor who is leaving office this year, meaning the measure will “have to be fixed up” by the incoming mayor, Measel said.

A glaring weakness of the proposal is its lack of procedures and policies on which the authority, if created, would act, Measel said.

The makeup of the governing board for the power authority pit some audience members against others.

The proposal calls for a board of seven directors to control and make policy for the authority. The proposal calls for four board members to be elected at large, appointment of one board member by the mayor, one board member appointed by the council and one chief executive officer.

Mickens said it was mix that would not work in the best interest of government.

But Hanalei resident Ray Chuan said having government representation on the board would actually help with the strengthening and improvement of a county-operated utility in the years ahead.

“Because the county has the ability to commit large amounts of money (through the flotation of bonds), it is only proper for the county to sit on the board,” Chuan said.

Chuan said he would welcome having a nine-member board to “dilute” the influence of the two government board representatives should the power authority be created.

Andy Parx, who said that he didn’t oppose the charter amendment proposal, said he was concerned there could be more government appointments if qualified board members aren’t found.

That situation would allow more government involvement in the running of any county-owned utility, Parx said.

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