Kauai's foolish electric company

SUBHEAD: You can have the best of both worlds. No KIUC bill and lights on at night. What more could you want?

By Juan Wilson on 19 January 2014 for Island Breath -

Image above: A photo of an aurora over a farmhouse in central Maine. The Andromeda Galaxy and a section of the Milky Way can also be spotted in this the image. From (http://www.nbcnews.com/science/northern-lights-captured-they-light-sky-over-maine-farmhouse-2D11730403).

As I write the island of Kauai is embroiled in a controversy over whether our islandwide so-called "cooperative" electric utility should charge members who took great effort of opt-out of what was a forced conversion to universeal "smart" electric meters on Kauai.

After a court ruling, resulting from a suit by island resident Adam Asquith, about 10% of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) so opted out. Now KIUC wants to charge those 3,000 or so customers about $10 a month to read their meters. A vote is before the coop membership.

KIUC has acted unethically and with impunity regarding this election.
  • KIUC has rewritten the ballot from the wording of the member represented committee that approved the "final" draft.
  • KIUC is in a conflict of interest as they wll gather and count the votes while at the same time they conduct a multi-media ad campaign in favor the board's view of the issue.
Who now can trust the board or the result of the election and for that matter the entire operation of KIUC. On 12 May of 2012 I wrote (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2012/05/kiuc-cuik.html):

If you have not noticed, the military, corporations and other forward looking institutions are working to be less dependent on our Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC).

They are generating their own power using photo-voltaic panels. They are, to name a few: Costco (Kukui Grove); Fire Department Station (Kapaa); Kauai Community College (Puhi); Pacific Missile Range Facility (Makaha Ridge); Pioneer Seed, (Waimea).

We must now plot a better course to a decentralized cooperative that would operate solely on renewable energy sources. This is the reverse of KIUC, hence the name CUIK. In my response to the KIUC open letter to its members (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2012/05/open-letter-to-kiuc-board.html) I wrote:
The KIUC plan to provide 50% alternative energy by 2023 is too little tool late. My prediction is that in the next few years it will become impossible for KIUC to finance large energy projects. Consequently KIUC will never reach generating 50% of what we use today with alternative sources. Here on Kauai it is likely that oil will become too precious for us too burn for power on demand 24/7/365 . That means that unless you have PV panels or a wind generator on your roof you'll have access to less than half the energy your using now. Maybe that is the secret of KIUC's program for demand destruction.
What I take away from that is we should expect much less service from KIUC for much more money on into the future. We are going to go through a painful transition even if we don't turn away from KIUC.

The decentralizing process has continued. And will continue here on Kauai primarily with solar photo-voltaic.

Variable Sunlight
The sun as a source of energy is wonderful in that it can shine almost anywhere for free. The down side as an energy source is that is is highly variable. There's that pesky day-night cycle cutting possible productive time by less than half each day. There's also the issue of variations cloud-cover. These two factors make solar energy very lumpy.

As a result this makes an isolated stand-alone centralized grid like KIUC very worried about solar PV customer power generation. As a Public Utility Commission sanctioned electric supplier KIUC has the responsibility of providing universal uniform power throughout the grid 24/7/365.

With solar-PV reaching that goal is imply not possible. Smart Meters may help a little, but having Smart meters isn't the same as having a Smart Grid or saving energy for when the sun does not shine.

Money is a problem
I don't think there is enough money or resources available on Kauai for grid-wide 24/7/365 energy storage using water reservoirs and hydro generation or any other labor/material effort requiring financialization.

KIUC is buried too deeply in debt by the original buyout scam offered by Kauai Electric ($190m) when it went out of business in 2002.  See (http://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/stories/2002/02/25/focus2.html). They have expanded that debt limit since. See TGI article "KIUC moves to increase its debt limit to $525m" (http://thegardenisland.com/news/local/article_477142b2-147b-11df-b4ff-001cc4c002e0.html).

I don't think KIUC will ever be solvent or be able to keep the grid intact running on alternative variable power like solar-PV.

Eating their own
None the less, in a tropical place like Kauai, people see it in their own interest, if they can afford it, to offset some of their power needs to the sun over their heads. Prices for alternative energy PV systems have dropped so low as to be a serious threat to power utility companies.

Consequently, power utility companies are beginning to see their customers not so much as a dependent herd of sheep - but as competitors or even enemies. They are inventing new ways to keep the herd in line and derive money from their dependance. Smart Meters are one way to do that. There are aspects of Smart Meters, besides health and safety issues that concern me. They relate to privacy, commercialization, consumerism.

In the near future Smart Meters will gather a continuous stream of meta-data from Smart Appliances that include: make; model; times of use; power consumption; and other details. That data will be gathered and sold, much like the data Google collects on your internet history;  personal preferences; email activity; and blog content.

In fact, Google will be a partner of the utilities and their Smart Meter wi-fi data network with their $3 billion purchase of Nest, a Smart Thermostat (and home instrument manufacturer) that will interface your home systems with your Smart Phone.

Don't you think Google, Verizon and Time-Warner know too much about you already?

People using solar PV have one of three options.

  1. Be on the grid and co-generate power with KIUC. That program has been called net-metering. That usually means buying KIUC power when the sun isn't shining at a premium and selling power to KIUC at a discount when it is. This is not a bad system... unless too many people choose this path. By 2010 that was already a problem.  See (http://thegardenisland.com/news/kiuc-reaches-net-metering-limits/article_7c49cd13-4efc-5f7e-929d-af8173c7e4fa.html). As more people try to co-generate the power companies will use increasing punishment for this alternative energy initiative.

  2. Be off the KIUC grid and store your own solar PV power with batteries. Because of the cost of batteries and their fragility you will likely not be using as much energy as you do today, but at least you'll be able to read at night and possibly keep the refrigerator cold.

  3. Be off the grid and use electricity at the whim of the sun. No freezer or night lighting, but you'll be able to keep your portable devises charged and use power tools during the day.
From here going forward the sweet spot will likely be Option #2. You will have to conserve and eventually face the end of getting replacement batteries from Walmart or NAPA. But by that time KIUC may be long gone.

But on this route you can have the best of both worlds: No KIUC bill and lights on at night. What more could you want?



  1. Yes, exactly. Switch to PV before KIUC fails.

  2. If you intend to reject KIUC's services for independent alternative energy, take steps to cancel your co-op membership since you will otherwise probably be held legally responsible for sharing in bankruptcy costs as a co-op member.

  3. Aloha Anonymous,

    I have never been a member of KIUC. Didn't think it would be prudent.

    Juan Wilson
    IB Publisher