Power to the People

Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative is little, local and way ahead of the curve on renewable energy

Story by Allan Parachini. Photos by Mallory Roe.

Below is the section featuring Jim Mayfield, visit here for the full article.

In 1999 banker Jim Mayfield saw a story about the impending sale of Kaua‘i Electric in a local newspaper and said to himself, “That’s a great idea.” Mayfield soon found himself among a group of local business leaders determined to buy the company and turn the operation into a resident-owned cooperative. That group turned to the Rural Utility Service, an agency founded in 1935 as part of the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Administration; its mission is to improve infrastructure in rural areas. Mayfield was surprised by the agent’s response. “He had almost no reason to spend more than a minute or two talking to somebody like me about 100 percent financing for a community to purchase a utility.” Mayfield admits he had no idea what an electrical co-op was. A financial adviser from the Mainland tried to explain, but Mayfield needed to fit the concept into an Island context. “I said to him, ‘Oh, a co-op is an ‘ohana.’ But of course, he didn’t know what an ‘ohana is, so I went on to explain that it is family, but not necessarily by blood. Then I told him ‘ohana would work really well on Kaua‘i because that’s what a co-op is. This is a small island. That’s what people do on small islands. We take care of each other.”