Letters for Friday, September 5, 2008

• About KIUC’s energy rate adjustment

• Kalalau morning

About KIUC’s energy rate adjustment

A lot of concern has been expressed recently about the energy rate adjustment.

Kauai Island Utility Cooperative’s rates are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission and are set to charge just enough to cover our cost of providing your service. Most of our costs change slowly, like the cost of trucks or poles or employees. Although these costs do go up a little every year, KIUC hasn’t asked to change our base rate that covers these costs since 1996.

The energy adjustment component captures the cost difference between the current fuel costs and the fuel costs that were used to calculate the base rates in 1996. With the exception of a slight downward adjustment in 1998 to the base rate, KIUC’s rate structure has not changed since 1996. Increases in our effective electrical rates primarily reflect increases in fuel costs. The other component of our electric rates that varies monthly is a generating efficiency incentive that is provided for by the state. If KIUC generates power efficiently, a percentage of the savings is allowed to be retained by KIUC and is included in member rates. Since KIUC has not increased base rates since 1996, the majority of our net margin is derived from this efficiency adjustment. KIUC must earn a margin and grow equity in order to remain in compliance with requirements from our lenders and to be able to access low cost government sponsored funds to facilitate system improvements that will benefit all our members.

This year close to half of KIUC’s budget will go to pay our fuel bill — around $105,000,000 — last year we were just short of $82,000,000. When our rates were set in 1996, our fuel bill was $23,000,000.

KIUC is a nonprofit co-op. Take a look at the financial reports we publish and see where your dollars are going. We publish them on our Web site, in our annual report and in Currents magazine. While we recognize and are sensitive to the impact high energy rates driven by the unprecedented increase in petroleum costs have on our members, KIUC must be able to recover the costs we incur in producing electricity. If we didn’t charge you the energy adjustment, we’d be bankrupt fast. But if we kept the bills the same when oil goes down, we’d make way too much money. So the state of Hawai‘i includes a charge in our rates that goes up and down with the price we pay for fuel.

Randall J. Hee, president and CEO

Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative

Kalalau morning

There is no development in Kalalau, Na Pali State Park. No lights at night or engine noise to disturb the precious serenity of the valley. Only in very few places in the world can one still experience the original earth the way it all once used to be. As our lives become more stressful, complex and fast, and as we are required to spend more time indoors, a park like Kalalau becomes a lifeline to sanity. It becomes important for all of us to respect and preserve its wildness and peace as much as possible.

One dawn on a recent camping trip I hiked into the still valley and up one of the side ridges. As colors began to appear in the sky I sat and watched the valley wake up. At first I could only hear the river far below, a little miracle of pure spring water that gushes out of the side of the cliffs and first turns into a waterfall and then the stream that nourishes the whole valley.

Then I could hear a rushing sound down valley that became louder and closer: a gust of north wind stirring the leaves as it passed. Soon enough the birds began, sleepily chirping and peeping at first; within minutes the valley was a chorous, including the raucous cackling of the erkels and more gusts of wind.

I let my mind go and slowly came to my senses in direct experience.

Not too long after, I picked up the sound of a distant helicopter wending its way north along the pali, poking into the valleys as it came. Another minute and the sound broke over a ridge and flooded into Kalalau, shattering the peace for the rest of the day of helicopter tours. The craft came grinding and churning up valley lower than legally allowed and louder than my nerves could tolerate without contracting. The roar was magnified by the amphitheatre-like bowl of the valley. All natural sounds were drowned out. The helicopter thundered up to the waterfall where it hovered for a few seconds and then thrashed its way back out. My nerves were jarred. The concert was over. Two more helicopters had already arrived: this was probably their “sunrise special.”

While visiting the valley over the past 15 years I have frequently had to halt conversations until helicopters passed. That is a measure of how loud they are in this amphitheatre.

We, the public, own the parks. Strange then that the public pays $10/night in the park, while helicopters with all their noise and annoyance (which is virtually non-stop during the day) don’t pay a cent. Furthermore, they are not marked with license numbers, so they cannot be reported when flying illegally low.

Na Pali State Park is not zoned commercial, nor should it ever sound like a war zone, as it does now daily. Why should we, the public, sacrifice the serenity of our park to commercial ventures that degrade the experience of the park?

Helicopters share the ecological space of the white tropic bird and frigate birds (among others). I know a witness who found a tropic bird that was mangled by a helicopter (probably caught in the down-draft of the blades). A lone bald eagle that used to inhabit the Waimea Canyon reached the same fate.

The helicopter situation is untenable and must change. I recommend for starters no overflights of Kalalau, as is the case in Haleakala and the Grand Canyon, and no tour flights on Sundays. Please, helicopter companies, respect your neighbors and the many visitors who come to Kaua‘i for quiet, for healing and for world-class wilderness.

Arius Hopman



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