WAIMEA — Candidates for the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative Board of Directors gathered in front of an audience of about a dozen people Wednesday evening at the Waimea Neighborhood Center during the final panel discussion leading up to the March 23 vote.
Carol Bain, Stewart “Stu” Burley, Allan Smith, John “Jack” Benzie, Jonathan Jay and Jan TenBruggencate are each vying for one of three open spots on the board.
On Wednesday, each asked for the community’s support and said they would like to see a greater interest in KIUC and its elections.
After a brief introduction, candidates responded to a series of eight questions submitted by listeners of KKCR radio, which broadcast the event live.
When asked about the KIUC Strategic Plan, candidate Jonathan Jay said the cooperative must address the “crisis in democracy that is occurring.” All five other candidates shared his concerns.
“When we all snooze, we all lose,” Jay said. “How we generate electricity on this island affects everyone … There’s 26,000 members in KIUC, and this election something like 20,000 of us are not going to vote. And that’s terrible.”
According to Shelley Paik of KIUC, the cooperative has 25,086 members.
“I encourage folks to get involved in these issues and vote for the folks that are important to you,” TenBruggencate said.
The first question posed by moderator Sherri Patrick, program director of Leadership Kaua‘i, was whether the Westside could have its own independent energy grid. All candidates seemed to be in agreement that the idea would not be beneficial for the island as a whole.
“We could be independent, we could be sustainable, but we need to be connected to the rest of the island,” Smith said of the Westside. “Kaua‘i is a very small island.”
While technically possible, Benzie said the Westside has the capability of being “a major producer of high quality renewable energy that could then feed the rest of the grid.”
TenBruggencate said his gut feeling is it would not be the most cost-effective solution and might lead to higher rates.
Regarding whether GMO fields on the Westside could be replaced with solar farms, several candidates said they believe there is enough room for everyone.
“I would say leave them alone and let’s look at other areas where nothing but scrub brush is being grown,” Burley said.
“There is quite a lot of land out there, and we could look at other options for different types of energy resources,” Bain said.
Regarding turning the Kekaha Landfill into a garbage-to-energy facility, the overall consensus was that it is not sustainable for Kaua‘i.
“Garbage to energy is not for our island,” Bain said. “We just can’t size that type of project.”
“A recycling center is more appropriate than just burning our trash,” Smith said.
TenBruggencate believes the best idea would be to build a facility to begin collecting and burning the methane coming off the landfill.
Regarding lowering electric bills, Jay said the No. 1 residential expense in a typical home is heating hot water.
“The first thing you want to do is stop that and get some solar hot water panels on your roof right away,” he said.
Burley said the first line of defense is the users themselves and suggested turning off appliances, drying clothes outside instead of using a dryer, washing clothes in cold water instead of hot and switching to energy efficient light bulbs.
Each candidate was also given the opportunity to discuss what they would personally bring to the table, if elected or re-elected.
TenBruggencate said he would work for fairness of rates, support the work force, protect the cooperative model from legislative challenges and move forward in sync with the KIUC membership.
As a current board member, Smith said he would continue to work for the KIUC membership with open dialogue and produce results.
Jay said he would offer creative problem solving solutions, fresh eyes, his ability to listen to the public and think outside of the box and a stronger focus on reducing the demand of energy.
Burley said he could offer a close relationship with KIUC members along with his training in risk management.
Benzie said he would bring a new perspective and management leadership experience, as well as encourage the KIUC membership to get more involved.
Finally, Bain said she offers strong research abilities, experience with policy and bylaws and an ability to ask the tough questions.
Wednesday’s candidate forum closed with Randy Francisco of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce encouraging the community to get out and vote.
“Please vote, please tell everyone,” he said.
The deadline to vote in the KIUC Board of Directors election is March 23. Votes can be submitted online, by telephone or by paper ballot. For more information contact the KIUC at website.kiuc.coop or call 246-4300. The KIUC office is located at 4463 Pahe‘e St. in Lihu‘e.
See Sunday’s edition of The Garden Island for the first installment of a four-part series profiling the candidates.
• Chris D’Angelo, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 241) or email@example.com.