How should Kaua‘i vote on the KIUC ballot issue?

The KIUC ballot issue is one of the most important issues facing our community. We all agree that Kaua‘i cannot continue to be dependent on oil for critical economic and environmental reasons.

Recently and in 2008, gas prices approached $5 per gallon, causing terrible suffering for our families and businesses. What will happen to our island in five, 10 or 15 years as gas prices continue to rise over time? We must act now to get off oil if we want a good future for our children and grandchildren.

KIUC, which is essentially “us,” is trying to do this by retaining the expertise of Free Flow Power and moving, after some fits and starts, to properly develop and own hydroelectric power plants on behalf of all the ratepayers on the island.

There will be two benefits to this:

1.) Once the development costs are paid, the price of electricity from the hydroelectric plants will stabilize, and could go down. My Canadian friends tell me that their electric bill has not risen in 10 years because their electricity comes from hydroelectric plants.

2.) By owning the hydroelectric power source, KIUC will not be beholden to a third party, for-profit company that could raise prices over time, even after the cost of developing the plant is paid off. The difference is like a credit union owning the hydroelectric plant vs. a for-profit bank. With a credit union, benefits will go to members of the credit union rather than to outside investors of the bank.

There is concern that FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) could preempt or supersede state and local regulations or condemn private land. However, the most recent U.S. Supreme Court case supports the supremacy of a state’s minimum stream flow requirements. And, KIUC’s CEO, David Bissell, has stated in a recorded public meeting that, after KIUC does its due diligence and proposes a project, it can withdraw from the FERC process if that is in the ratepayers’ best interest.

Bissell has also said publicly that KIUC cannot and will not proceed without land owner permission. Because KIUC is a cooperative, there are ways that we, the membership, can hold Mr. Bissell and the Board to that promise.

The good news about the FERC process is that it gives priority to KIUC over for-profit hydroelectric developers. It would be against ratepayers’ interest to disengage from the FERC process right now and allow for-profit developers to access the island’s hydroelectric sites before locally run KIUC has a chance to assess the sites, consult with water users and develop proposals on behalf of us ratepayers.

A “No” vote could set hydroelectric development back for many years-a delay we cannot afford. No one disputes that a “no” vote will cut the contract between KIUC and Free Flow Power. Not only will this cost ratepayers some $300,000 in costs related to contract cancellation, it will deprive KIUC of a partner with expertise in designing and building hydroelectric plants.

It will give up the priority place that FERC presently gives KIUC (over third party for-profit developers) to study the feasibility and propose designs of hydroelectric systems for the community and various agencies to review and permit. And, it will scare off other hydroelectric developers — who will want to work with such a fickle partner as KIUC?

To not consider this probability is irresponsible. A similar thing happened in Honolulu over 15 years ago when the City Council rejected rail transit by one vote. The project was delayed for decades, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and lost opportunities.

A “Yes” vote, on the other hand, will move Kaua‘i toward energy sustainability. By controlling much of the hydroelectric resources on Kaua‘i, KIUC will move toward stabilizing electric rates, allowing families and business to flourish. A “Yes” vote will allow the island to come together and work together under the mandate of KIUC Board Resolution 03-11 to develop hydroelectric power while respecting environmental, agricultural, cultural, recreational and other needs. Look for your ballot and vote “Yes”! Get your friends to find their ballots and vote “Yes”! There will be no better gift for our children.

• JoAnn Yukimura is a member of the Kaua‘i County Council.

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