A second protest to the Kauai utility’s plans to develop six hydroelectric projects on local waterways has been rejected after the utility found more then one-third of the petition’s signatures were invalid.
The utility’s denial of the petition clears the way for now. But local critics predict more petitions and potential legal challenges could follow, suggesting the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative may face a bumpy road in their hopes of using hydro power to supply 20 percent of the island’s electricity.
David Bissell, CEO of KIUC, has argued that hydropower can provide local residents with a clean source of electricity at a low cost for years to come.
An initial petition challenged the strategy of going through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to develop the projects, with critics charging that such federal oversight was unnecessary and could supersede more stringent state water regulations.
That petition prompted a member vote, results of which were released last week. By a 2-1 margin members voted in favor of KIUC’s decision to contract with Free Flow Power, a Boston-based company that initially filed the FERC applications for developing the projects on Kauai.
However, local resident Jonathan Jay brought a second petition protesting the manner in which KIUC worded the ballot and corresponding voter guide, alleging that the material didn’t include an alternative viewpoint.
He said that KIUC’s ballot provided no mention of the FERC process and that it was written in a “legalistic and technical style of writing that few people were able to understand.”
Jay secured 291 signatures on his petition. But Anne Barnes, spokesperson for the KIUC said that only 185 of the 250 signatures needed to push the matter to a member vote were valid. She said that a portion of the members were not in “good standing,” meaning that they didn’t have an open, active account. Only residents whose name is on the account with KIUC can vote.
“People genuinely believed they were technical members,” said Barnes. “There was nothing untoward.”
She also said that there were some cases where people signed twice.
Jay called KIUC’s conclusions “outrageous.”
“It’s baffling to me why they would be trying to wiggle out of the responsibility to the community,” said Jay. “ I don’t know why they would even want to go there.”
The utility provided Civil Beat with a copy of the ballot and voter guide. The ballot contained no mention of the FERC process. The voter guide mentioned it, but didn’t explain the arguments that have been made against going through the federal agency.
The utility and Free Flow Power executives have argued that FERC jurisdiction provides them with needed financial security to develop the projects. Initial permits allow developers to conduct preliminary studies for three years and provide them with priority status in gaining a FERC license, without another company jumping in front of them to develop the site.
However, critics, including Bill Tam, the deputy director for water at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, have in the past said that federal oversight, triggered by the FERC process, was unnecessary as developers can obtain a lease option or development rights from the landowner. They say this would provide the same security and make federal oversight unnecessary.
The voter guide said that a vote “no” would mean “a likely end to member-owned development on Kauai.” It also said that contracts with Free Flow Power would be terminated and the utility would owe the company more than $325,000 in contractual obligations.
Copies of the ballot and voter guide can be found below.