LIHUE — Should the costs of reading and servicing old electric meters — at an estimated $340,000 per year — be shared by the entire utility or remain with those who opt not to use the new smart meter technology?
During a special ballot election beginning Jan. 3, all members of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative will have an opportunity to weigh-in on the issue.
Beforehand, however, the KIUC Board of Directors must settle on the ballot’s final language.
So far, that has proven less than smooth sailing.
“The process is a charade, it’s a farce,” said Jonathan Jay, one of three local residents who drafted a petition against the KIUC Board of Director’s decision to charge additional fees to members who opt to keep old meters.
After receiving public testimony from dozens of local residents Dec. 9, the KIUC board met Thursday to update the ballot’s wording, which several community members said was too vague because it did not include the specific fees.
Those fees include a one-time set-up charge (ranging from $50.64 to $138.80) as well as a $10.27 monthly fee.
The language now includes some, not all, fee information and explains what “yes” and “no” votes mean.
“The KIUC Board of Directors voted to charge fees to those who choose not to use the standard smart meter,” it reads. “The fees, including a $10.27 monthly charge, were approved by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission and cover the additional costs of installing and reading older meters. This ballot allows members to approve or reject the board action. A YES vote supports the board decision. It means that only those who choose not to have a smart meter will pay the additional charges. A NO vote overturns the board decision. It could result in all members paying the costs of installing and reading the old meters.”
A second public meeting to get input from co-op members begins at 5 p.m. today at the KIUC building in Lihue.
“The language can be changed again,” KIUC spokesman Jim Kelly said.
He said the board is going to take a vote Tuesday.
Kelly said board members are trying to come up with language that is clean and concise, but anti-fee petitioners, including Jay, argue the latest draft is biased in an attempt to swing the vote in the co-op’s favor.
Jay said he believes the board chose only to include the monthly charge in order to minimize the fees.
He said the board unilaterally rewrote the ballot to be less simple and harder to understand, and include extraneous information and hypothetical scenarios.
But Kelly said the monthly tariff is the one most people have expressed concern about.
“It’s not the lowest charge,” Kelly said, addressing a comment brought up by Jay in an email. “It occurs every month.”
Originally, the draft ballot did not include any fee information. KIUC board members said that doing so might only cause confusion among voters.
Ballots will be mailed out to all 30,000 co-op members beginning Jan. 3, with votes due by Jan. 25, Kelly said.
KIUC has said the election will cost the KIUC membership $63,000, including $30,000 to hire a Mainland election management company.
About 3,000 of the utility’s 30,000 customers have opted not to have a wireless smart meter, with many voicing health and privacy concerns.
In the December issue of KIUC’s ‘Currents’ magazine, CEO David Bissell questioned why 90 percent of co-op customers should have to subsidize the other 10 percent.
“Noting that both the elected KIUC board, the (Public Utility Commission) and the Office of the Consumer Advocate have approved the fees, and with 90 percent of customers using a smart meter … Bissell said he believes the issue already has been decided,” the article states.
Board members declined to comment prior to today’s meeting.
• Chris D’Angelo, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.