Kapa‘a resident files complaint with PUC against KIUC

LIHU‘E — Kapa‘a resident Mark Naea filed on Monday a formal complaint with the state Public Utilities Commission, claiming discrimination by Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative against its own members.

“The continued rollout of smart meters … on Kaua‘i by KIUC is in direct violation of PUC regulations and state law, as well as undermining the federal court approved settlement with Adam Asquith,” Naea said in the complaint.

Asquith filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against KIUC on March 16, asking for an injunction to prevent the co-op from installing a smart meter on his property.

On May 31 (filed in court June 4), KIUC agreed it will not install or seek a permission to install a smart meter on Asquith’s property, and that it must have a court order or an order of determination from PUC to install any smart meter on Asquith’s property without his permission.

Following the agreement between Asquith and KIUC, Naea said that he expects the rights of each co-op member to be equally upheld.

“KIUC does not have the right to discriminate among co-op members by creating in essence a privileged class of haves and have-nots,” Naea said. “This type of discrimination cannot be allowed to go on, as KIUC’s current stance also exposes the cooperative to multiple lawsuits, the cost of which will ultimately be borne by the co-op members.”

Prior to filing a complaint with PUC, Naea asked KIUC, via a June 12 email, to cease and desist all smart meter installations without permission of the account holder. KIUC currently offers a deferral program, although it’s not an opt-out option.

“Mr. Asquith doesn’t want a meter, so he isn’t getting one,” KIUC spokesperson Jim Kelly said Wednesday. “A customer who fills out a deferral form won’t get one, either. So please explain who is getting special treatment here.”

Kelly said the co-op needs more information before establishing a permanent policy on a customer’s choice not to have a smart meter, and then likely need to have the PUC approve such policy.

“We’re not trying to be cagey by using the word ‘deferral,’” Kelly said.

A key piece of any opt-out policy would be determining the cost of installing, maintaining and reading the “non-smart” meters, he said.

KIUC officials said on at least two occasions that co-op members who choose to defer smart meter installation may have to pay a fee in the future. Asquith said Tuesday that he is aware that he may have to pay a fee if PUC determines it.

In the meantime, KIUC is installing about 200 to 300 smart meters per day, according to Kelly.

“There’s no reason for us to stop, certainly not based on the provisions of the settlement with Adam Asquith, which affects only Mr. Asquith,” Kelly said.

Asquith said he spent hundreds of dollars on the federal complaint, including a $300 fee and flying to O‘ahu twice, once to file the complaint and again to attend the hearing.

Naea said in a press release Monday that it is discrimination to give special treatment to one co-op member and not to others, to force co-op members to pay for such special treatment in the form of court fees and litigation, and to give “false assurance” to one class of co-op member while another is protected by special dispensation.

“KIUC has done all three, and continues to do so,” he said.

Kelly said the letter sent to PUC is based on “bad assumptions, faulty logic, wishful thinking and a nonsensical mash-up of state law, PUC regulations and the provisions of the Asquith settlement.”

“To make the leap that that the deferral policy is somehow discriminating against certain people is illogical and based on a tortured interpretation of a very simple settlement agreement,” said Kelly, who also questioned the authenticity of Naea’s complaint.

“Just because somebody sends (PUC) a letter and calls it a complaint doesn’t mean they will do anything with it,” Kelly said.

PUC Chair Mina Morita said Wednesday that she wasn’t sure she was in position to comment on the legality of the formal complaint. PUC legal counsel made an attempt to contact The Garden Island, but the newspaper did not reach PUC staff before the end of the PUC’s business day. 

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