Mayoral candidates voice their opinion on the KE sale

The three members of the County Council who are candidates for mayor all voted in favor of the unified county position favoring, with conditions, the sale of Kauai Electric to Kaua’i Island Utility Co-op.

Yesterday, they elaborated on their reasons for their vote.

“I think a unified position clarifies to the PUC what the county feels,” said County Councilmember Bryan Baptiste.

It provides a “safety net” of conditions by which the county supports the sale, with one provision for an immediate, 6-percent rate decrease, he said.

The escrow account provision gives rate-payers some peace of mind that the millions of dollars being spent to acquire KE will be safe and secure, Baptiste said.

Unified support with conditions shows the PUC that the county can support the sale with the various conditions, he added.

“Why did the Mayor come to our position?” asked Council Chair Ron Kouchi. Mayor Maryanne Kusaka had been opposed to the sale until earlier this week, he said. And while the council didn’t officially express its opinion as a body until Monday, a majority of its members earlier publicly expressed support for co-op ownership of KE.

“We came to a decision about what’s best. We found common ground to come up with the best product for the people here,” said Kouchi. Never was Kusaka’s position in favor of the sale, and the conditions imposed weren’t hers, Kouchi continued.

“Her position was ‘no.'”

“I voted for what’s in the best interest of rate-payers. We didn’t go to the mayor’s side, and she didn’t decide to do what the council wanted.” It was a compromise, said Kouchi.

“I’ve always been in support of the co-op and its efforts” to purchase KE, said Councilmember Randal Valenciano.

It was important for the county to file a supportive final position statement, not an opposing one, said Valenciano.

He said he still has some real concerns about co-op ownership of KE, which are largely addressed in the conditions incorporated in the county’s final position statement.

Where governance issues are concerned, the county’s proposed conditions urge the co-op to move toward being an ideal co-op in that the rate-payers have a real say in board membership, direction, and other issues, Valenciano said.

The plan to leave a portion of the purchase price in something of an escrow account allows KIUC to qualify for the low-interest RUS funds, and the co-op not being able to get those low-interest funds would have adversely impacted co-op debt service payments and, inevitably, member electric rates, said Valenciano.

His wish is that the set-aside concept would be presented to the PUC, and the body will decide on its merits.

If the county couldn’t negotiate a lower purchase price, at least it felt compelled to try to negotiate lower rates for consumers, Valenciano concluded.

Independent mayoral candidate Dennis Nimkie earlier came out in support of co-op ownership of KE as well, saying among other things that “anyone but the county” would be a good owner.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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