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In Our Voices for Friday — March 24, 2006

Talk about voter apathy.

All ballots were due in the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative board member election by 4 p.m. last Saturday.

By that deadline 5,651 ballots had been cast. That is 24.21 percent of eligible voters out of a pool of 23,341.

And this is in an election for three board seats to govern and determine direction for the island’s only electric utility. KIUC has an annual budget of $150 million and a staff of 150 people.

The county of Kaua’i has the same budget, but with a staff of 750. Here’s hoping the county elections in the fall draw a bigger crowd and a little more interest.

With all of the hemming and hawing island-wide over high utility prices and complaints over power outages and perceived misspending on the part of the board, where’s the interest when it really counts — electing the officials to the governing board?

It appears the customers — or members rather — are content with the current status of the island’s electricity provider. Last year’s March board elections had a turnout only slightly less than this year’s.

And 2006 was the year where the terms of Gregg Gardiner, Ron Kouchi and Susan Stayton expired. If anyone remembers the interest Gardiner garnered back in the fall when some of the board’s spending habits came to light, that interest was absent in electing his replacement.

Gardiner also was the one who orchestrated the purchase of Kauai Electric six years ago, morphing it into the nonprofit co-op KIUC. That experience is now gone from the board. How to replace that lost experience was an important decision, yet the interest was not there.

The elected KIUC officials carry out business that is directly reflected in everyone’s pocketbooks.

KIUC officials were happy with the 24.21 percent turnout, as in other co-ops the normal turnout is around 12 to 16 percent they say. Some 47 other states besides Hawai’i have co-ops, but Kaua’i has the only one in the state.

There was an opportunity for two women to be elected to the board as well, but Carol Bain fell short with 15.63 percent of the vote, while Linda Saloka-Pasadava received 7.09 percent. Both women, during the campaign, had expressed commitments to alternative sources of energy, another area in which the board will make important decisions. With fossil-fuel driven power plants, alternative energy will need to be developed at some point. Let’s hope those elected will be as committed to that pursuit as Bain and Saloka-Pasadava appeared to have been.

To KIUC’s credit, today officials will announce which Requests For Proposals they will pursue for renewable-energy sources. The co-op had been reviewing 20 proposals that had been whittled down to eight. KIUC will reveal today which of those RFPs have been chosen. The next step will be to establish Purchase Power Agreements where KIUC agrees to buy the power provided by the renewable-energy technology.

These are the sorts of processes the elected directors on the KIUC board will determine direction and focus on in the years to come.

If you came out to vote, your voice was heard.

If you are one of the ones whose voice is always heard, let’s hope you voted.

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