Diana Kirton was yesterday elected as chairwoman of the Hawke's Bay Power Consumers' Trust and said the first meeting of the trustees following this week's election was a fruitful one.
The election results were announced on Monday this week, and followed a testy campaign where candidates were at odds over their vision for the trust, particularly payment of the annual dividend.
Among a field of 13 candidates, Mrs Kirton secured the most votes and said she was honoured to have been unanimously voted in as the chairwoman for the trust for the next three-year term.
She said she was nominated by trustee Helen Francis, who had been a trustee since 2011 and newly elected trustee Kevin Atkinson seconded the nomination.
Ken Gilligan, who was chairman of the trust from 1999 to 2008, and was re-elected to the trust in October 2011 and again this week, was named deputy chairman.
Following the appointments the rest of the meeting was very productive, Mrs Kirton said.
"We covered a lot of ground in a very co-operative way. We discussed the challenges the trust has got like a lot of other trusts around New Zealand, the first being the upcoming ownership review, which is right on our doorstep."
The trustees were required to conduct a review of ownership of shares in Unison every five years, and Mrs Kirton said the aim was to have a report out and call for submissions early next year.
Shareholders would have the opportunity to have their say on continuing ownership and use of the dividend, she said.
"However, the biggest challenge will be positioning a regional asset worth over $500 million. The energy sector faces major technology changes. Operating a lines company in an environment that will see vastly different types of energy production and transmission, offers great opportunities but also threatens existing business."
She said several options would be put to shareholders as part of the ownership review, including considering whether all the capital should be retained in Unison, and asking if there should be a diversified portfolio to "de-risk" the shareholding.
Options included applying some of the capital to other strong revenue-producing assets, not necessarily held by Unison.
She said the review would also address whether "out of region" holdings were in the best interests of Hawke's Bay shareholders.
Continued consumer ownership would be likely to be a strongly held sentiment, but moving away from direct lines company operations could be a possible outcome of the review, providing the consumers retained ownership of the assets.
Concession-holding partnerships could be proposed, which offered opportunities to free up considerable capital, Mrs Kirton said.
"The trust has some amazing talent and experience. These skills will be tested to the full as we navigate the challenges in front of us."
She also noted the strong representation of women on the trust.
"Having 60 per cent representation is probably a first for a publicly elected body in Hawke's Bay. The mix of community and business skills is as real plus for the trust over this term."