KIUC looking for questions from community

The Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) has formed community-based groups to gather information on the types of questions new members of the co-op might have.

Before a full-on, public-education campaign is launched, co-op leaders want to find out the kinds of information the community wants, said Gregg Gardiner, KIUC board chair.

Several mailings to KIUC’s 30,000 members outlined some of the benefits of becoming co-op members, and benefits of co-op ownership of the island’s electric utility.

It is part of an evolving public-education campaign that the public is invited to participate in, said Gardiner.

“We expect people will have lots of questions about the new co-op, how it will work, and what the many benefits of membership will mean to them,” said Gardiner.

“We will be providing answers to these questions through our public-education program, but before we launch this effort we want to make sure that we are providing the types of information that our future members really want to have about the co-op, not just what we think they may need or want to have,” he said.

“We are starting off by asking our members what they think.

“What questions do our members have? What kinds of communications materials do they want to receive from the co-op?” he asked.

“What is the best way to clearly explain what this means for them? These are the questions we want our members to help us answer to ensure our public education effort is on point and is responsive to what Kaua’i residents want and need,” said Gardiner.

“Based on the input we hope to receive from our members, our goal is to develop a simple, clear, public-education campaign that will explain how the new co-op will work and, we hope, encourage everyone to become co-op members,” Gardiner said.

To solicit input from the community, KIUC is organizing focus groups, comprised of residents selected randomly from throughout the community, to assist in the development of the co-op’s public-education program.

The first group has already been meeting, he said.

Focus-group participants will be asked to provide input and suggestions on all aspects of KIUC’s public-education campaign, including key messages, design, and overall approach.

Additionally, KIUC is urging Kaua’i residents to provide input on the pending public-education campaign on-line, by completing and submitting a simple questionnaire that is posted on KIUC’s Web site, www.kiuc.com.

“We really do want to hear from people, and we want them to know we’ll be listening very carefully to what they tell us,” Gardiner continued.

“By soliciting this kind of input, we hope to demonstrate that KIUC is practicing what we preach. Co-op ownership empowers the community in making decisions regarding their own energy future,” he noted.

“We want to start now by making sure that the community has a voice in developing an educational program which provides our future members with the information they need to participate effectively in the co-op,” Gardiner said.

KIUC is an electric cooperative, the first in the state, a nonprofit business that is owned by the people who buy electricity. All of Kaua’i’s rate-payers will automatically become co-op members, unless they choose for any reason not to join. Those who join will have a voice in how the co-op is run, he added.

“People will have plenty of time to get all of the facts and to decide if they want to become members,” explained Gardiner.

“Our goal is to get people simple, clear, complete information, so they can make informed decisions. But we strongly believe everyone will want to become members once they understand the tremendous list of benefits,” he added.

KIUC’s mission is to provide reliable, low-cost electric service in an environmentally responsible manner, consistent with sound business practices, and to help improve the quality of life on the island.

For more information, or to complete and submit the community education campaign questionnaire, visit www.kiuc.com.

Co-op representatives in late September won state Board of Land and Natural Resources approval to transfer all existing state leases from KE to KIUC, and other easements are in the process of being transferred, said Gardiner.

The state leases are generally easements or rights-of-way for existing poles, lines and transformers, and other improvements.

Several transition teams worked to ensure the move from investor-owned KE (parent company Citizens Communications Co., headquarters in Stamford, Conn.) to rate-payer owned KIUC (no parent company, headquarters in Lihu’e), was seamless.

An election of a new KIUC board of directors should happen early next year.

Until last week, all counties but Kaua’i had local ownership of electric utilities, as Honolulu-based Hawaiian Electric Industries owns and operates all the other electrical systems in Hawai’i, pointed out Dr. Leroy Laney, a Hawaii Pacific University finance and economics professor.

“Energy generation is expensive on Kaua’i because the economies of scale that other utilities can capture do not exist on Kaua’i,” Laney said.

“Sugar’s exit aggravates the problem because the co-generation plants of the mills now cannot help. Power generation may always be expensive on Kaua’i, but this arrangement (co-op ownership) should keep a good bit of money from leaving the local economy,” said Laney, former First Hawaiian Bank chief economist and a current economic advisor to the bank.

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

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