Guest Column —- In Favor Of A Utility Co-Op System

Dear Editor,

If the NextEra merger does not go through, a utility co-op system for Hawai‘i Island could be part of the solution to prepare us for coming changes.

The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) has been operating for 12 years and its results have been impressive. KIUC was 100 percent debt-financed through a co-op financing system, and millions of dollars have gone into equity since then and have been refunded to its ratepayers.

There are 900 utility co-ops nationwide, which have gotten together and formed co-op banks to help finance utility co-ops. These banks have excellent credit ratings. The Cooperative Financing Corporation (CFC) has assets of $26 billion, and Co Bank has $100 billion.

KIUC’s electricity costs were the highest of all the Hawai‘i counties when it started. But in 12 years, its costs have risen the least. This is despite its not having geothermal and not being able to use wind because of bird kills.

This coming weekend, KIUC is having a blessing of its new Anahola photovoltaic system. That system is significant because it is using daytime sun for nighttime use, and it’s one of the first such systems in the nation.

The co-op system, with its locally managed board of directors, is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. It’s nimble and practical.

A hybrid electricity system for our state might be just what we need to prepare for the future.

Richard Ha
President, Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative

2 replies
  1. Joy Cash
    Joy Cash says:

    Community owned utilities are our future.
    Sooner we get started the better.
    We can learn from any missteps of other countries have taken, making ours the gold standard of community owned utility cooperatives.
    We have great opportunities with solar/battery storage technologies,
    off-shore wind & wave sources.
    Wind/wave generators can be placed outside of bird migration/sea life patterns.

  2. Hazen
    Hazen says:

    I had the Speaker of the House Joseph M. Souki looking like he wanted to kill me after discussing the co-op idea with him tonight at the “Meet the Politicians” event at Pahoa Community Center. He had responded to a community question about a co-op by stating that he used to work for Maui Electric, but that in his opinion Kauai has the highest energy rates in the State, so if we wanted that we can go for it. I approached him afterwards and said that the Kauai situation was more nuanced, that they just had a biomass plant and this new solar farm coming online and had a large loan to repay, but that in five years i think they’ll have lower rates as they don’t need to buy fuel AND that in ten years i thought everyone would be envious of their grid and system. He seemed very offended at that idea. Not sure why. Otherwise i thought him a rather amiable and intelligent gentleman.

    Speaking with our amazing Representative Joy San Buena-Ventura, she told me that all of Kauai is defined as a rural area so that allowed them to qualify for a federal grant to build their co-op. Big Island has Hilo and Kailua which would prevent that from happening, i then wondered aloud if Puna and other rural areas could do a separate co-op and leave Hilo and Kailua as they are… Maybe Russel Ruderman or Henry Curtis could speak to that….

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