KIUC forums address community

LIHU‘E — From Hanalei to Kekeha, Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative board of directors candidates have been participating in a series of community-organized candidate forums since Feb. 15.

Four of the five forums held so far have been well-attended, with community members turning out to support their favorite candidates and learn about their positions and philosophies on key issues, including approaches to renewable energy, electricity costs and conservation, smart meters and member-driven versus board-driven projects and policies.

Nine co-op members are competing for three three-year seats on the board of directors in this year’s election: second-term incumbents Steve Rapozo and Stewart “Stu” Burley; KIUC Nominating Committee-selected candidates Lesther Calipjo, Joel Guy and Calvin Murashige; and candidates by member petition Joanne Georgi, Ken Stokes, Pat Gegen and Karen Baldwin.

Only Baldwin, Gegen, Stokes and Georgi have attended four out of four forums. Murashige and Calipjo have attended one out of four.

The Feb. 15 forum in Hanalei, hosted by Apollo Kaua‘i and the Hanalei-to-Haena Community Association, attracted approximately 50 community members. At the moderated forum, each candidate was given three minutes to respond to posed questions, and the questions were the same for each candidate. (Candidates Murashige and Calipjo were not present.)

Approximately 50 community members attended Saturday’s forum at Kapa‘a Library, which was hosted by the Wailua-Kapa‘a Neighborhood Association. (Murashige, Calipjo, Rapozo, Burley and Guy were not present.)

Karen Baldwin

Baldwin believes it is the board’s responsibility to make decisions and answer for them. “I don’t advocate (members) voting on smart meters,” she said.

“We need to hedge our cost of oil,” Baldwin said. “Let’s make our engines biodeisel, so we can immediately convert, if needed. Let’s not kid ourselves that rates are going down. That’s not true.” She said renewable energy will cost more to produce and won’t immediately lower rates.

“Eventually it will, but initially it won’t,” she said.

When questioned about smart meters, Baldwin said, “We’re in an inverted process once again. They make a decision and then go out and inform the community. There are security issues. Those are real. I’m sure the board has answers on this; they just didn’t relate it to us.”

She said she believes that when a vacancy occurs on the board, the person with the next highest number of votes in the last election should fill the spot, rather than having the board vote someone on — which has been the board’s policy under the charter. At a board meeting late last year, Burley and Rapozo voted against amending the charter as described by Baldwin.

“Vacancies should not be filled by the board,” she said. “Democracy should be kept in place.”

Baldwin said she believes in Public Utilities Commission oversight for the co-op.

Pat Gegen

Gegen sees the co-op’s mission as clean, affordable electricity, while promoting democratic principles and transparency.

“We need to drive independent change,” he said. “KIUC should be helping us to make those changes. My concern is how the board has acted in the past. They haven’t engaged the community before making fundamental changes that affect the community.”

He emphasized the importance of balancing current costs with future costs.

“Young men have lost their lives overseas because of oil,” he said. “This is our life and our co-op. We have to decide together what to do with it.

“Every time we reduce demand, we use less oil,” he said. “We spend less than one-third, percentage wise, on conservation compared to other island utility companies. The board recently had the opportunity to increase the budget for demand-side education, and the board voted it down.”

On smart meters, Gegen said, “How does this fit the bigger picture? Where is the cost-benefit analysis? It’s $360 per meter members will pay, and there’s no evidence of cost savings. People should have the option to opt out.”

Stu Burley

Burley said he sees the co-op’s mission as safe, reliable power, and “we’re following it,” he said.

“If we can get you to just turn your lights off, your bill will go down,” Burley said. “Turn lights off when you leave a room.”

In terms of renewable energy options, Burley said, “Wind should be a word we never use. It’s off the table. We’re peaked out on solar. Hydro, I’m all for it. We should use whatever streams we can find and generate power, so long as it’s invisible to tourists.”

KIUC offers solar rebates, he said. “But for some reason, most people don’t want to change their habits,” he said.

He said he believes smart meters are safe based on his 40 years of experience with electromagnetic fields. “When I heard about smart meter technology in 2009, I said, ‘Wow, I want that.’”

On board vacancies, Burley said, “We have a policy in place that says if there’s less than a year left in that three-year term, the vacancy will be filled at the next election. If it’s more than a year, I would like to see the Nominating Committee replace them.”

Steve Rapozo

Rapozo said he sees the board’s mission as creating member-controlled renewable energy, and that the board should be tasked with making decisions on what projects to pursue rather than members.

“Our rates have been tracking the highest in the state,” Rapozo said.

In terms of smart meters, Rapozo said, “An opt out is being offered right now … The meters we are using are benign, low-power, one-watt.”

In terms of vacancies, Rapozo said he likes the policy that is in place. “It’s pretty good,” he said. “You can move a board member into that spot (thereby extending their term).”

Joel Guy

Guy said he believes the mission of the co-op is to provide renewable energy while pushing rates down, and “serve the land, not have the land serve us.” To become a stronger board, he advocates going out into the community, listening and learning.

“How much cost can members absorb?” Guy asked. “Biomass provides power and jobs. So that’s a great project,” he said.

On smart meters, Guy said, “I want to applaud the efforts of people who have tried to get to the bottom of this. There are issues we have to be addressing. There should be an ‘opt out,’ and there should have been a pilot program.”

Guy said he believes the board candidate with the next highest number of votes should fill a board vacancy, and that open committees invite better decisions.

Joanne Georgi

“Nuclear is the most cost-effective way to produce renewable energy,” Georgi said, “but because of what happened in Fukushima, it’s not going to happen right now. It’s about time we have board members who are looking at all solutions … Unfortunately, the current board is not making decisions everyone wants.”

Georgi said the co-op is wasteful with members’ money, citing KIUC calendars and the co-op’s Currents magazines as wasteful spending.

“There are lawsuits going on and people are supposedly getting sick,” Georgi said about smart meters. “I don’t want anybody tapping my information. We need to hold off and see what happens with the lawsuits in California.”

She believes vacancies should be filled with the candidate with the next most votes in the last election, and that committee meetings should be open to avoid “a rubber stamp sort of process.”

Ken Stokes

“We have three spheres: cost, ecology and social,” Stokes said.

“The only green energy so far has been on the tops of homes and businesses. We need to do everything we can to shave off demand, because it means less generation capacity we have to replace,” he said. “There’s an Efficiency and Consultancy Report they’ve been sitting on that tells how we can cut 20 percent.”

Regarding smart meters, Stokes said, “We Kauaians don’t like anything rammed down our throats. What we need is the smart grid.”

On filling board vacancies, Stokes said, “I like the next most votes in the last election idea because that would have put me on the board.”

On open committee meetings, he said, “You may not know what’s going on in that committee, but I’ll take your mana‘o in with me.”

The last of the five candidate forums begins at 7:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 106 of the Office of Continuing Education and Training at Kaua‘i Community College. The forum will be hosted by the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce and Lihu‘e Business Association.

KIUC will mail member ballots on March 5. The deadline for members to cast their votes is March 24.

 

• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 251, or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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