Future generations will be the main winners of a decision to wind down the Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust (TECT) and its associated cheques over the next 30 years, business leaders believe.
TECT trustees confirmed yesterday they would go ahead with a plan to restructure the trust and wrap it up by 2050.
It planned to retain enough money, an estimated $291 million to $413m, to continue issuing TECT cheques — the nickname for the annual rebate to Trustpower customers in Tauranga and the Western Bay — over this period.
The rest would go to the new TECT Community Trust.
The restructure followed Trustpower's announcement in January that it was looking at selling its retail business. If it sold, TECT beneficiaries would no longer be Trustpower customers.
TECT is a 26.8 per cent minority shareholder in Trustpower, which is New Zealand's fifth-largest electricity company with 231,000 retail customers - about 53,000 in Tauranga.
Under TECT's restructure plan, Trustpower customers as of January 28 would continue to receive a rebate from TECT for 30 years, provided the funds were there and the customer continued to live in Tauranga or the Western Bay. New customers would miss out.
The rebate will be $500 a year for the first 10 years, increasing to $600 in 2030 and $700 in 2040 to account for inflation.
The balance of funds, including the Trustpower shareholding, would be transferred to the new long-term community trust focused on grants for local community projects.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said TECT's decision was a "very sensible and fair solution".
"TECT already plays a valuable role in our community and this change will enable it to have an even more valuable role."
Tutt said TECT had long picked up areas not covered by councils or Government funders.
"So TECT plays a massively valuable role in helping some of those community organisations do the great work they already do. These changes will allow it to do it even more. The trustees have done a fantastic job."
The Incubator Creative Hub director Simone Anderson was among about two-thirds of nearly 800 people who submitted in favour of the move.
Anderson told the Bay of Plenty Times she believed TECT was an organisation with philanthropic and community funding at its core.
"So many opportunities go out to things that wouldn't exist if not for it," she said.
Anderson said she was supportive of the diverse range of recipients TECT donated to and such moves, in turn, made her feel invested. Redistributing the balance into a community grant fund "is a win, win, really".
"Personally, I'm a TECT customer and I'm always happy that anything I'm contributing to is going to good causes. I think that's the way people should be thinking."
Graeme Dingle Foundation Western Bay of Plenty regional manager Dan Allen-Gordon said "everyone's going to be a winner".
"Our community is going to be so well resourced ... I'm not sure why there were negative comments. Our community will be much better off."
TECT funding helped the foundation support 3600 young people every week, Allen-Gordon said.
"There's huge demand, there are communities that have been asking for our help ... we haven't been able to reach them. We will be able to now."
Allen-Gordon said TECT funding not only helped young people but contributed to some of Tauranga's most "amazing assets" such as the University of Waikato campus, the arena at Baypark and local surf club buildings.
"We are the envy of the rest of the country, I think.
"It's going to be a game-changer for the region."
Not all submitters were in favour, however. In her submission, Sally Paterson opposed the move because she did not believe it was fair to consumers "and effectively unjustly enriches and favours the community charities aspect over the best interests of the consumer beneficiaries."
Submitter Alison Julian said: "this money came from the customers and should go back to the customers."
J H Strickett said: "It is our money, therefore, it should be paid out in full".
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce Matt Cowley said TECT's decision was necessary "because doing nothing was a bad decision".
Cowley said TECT did well to protect the cheque while also creating a new community trust that will benefit local communities.
"Future generations are the main winner as the community will have a new trust with a broader purpose to invest into community assets and social programmes."
In a statement yesterday, TECT said the trustees will apply to the High Court for directions. The restructure will only take effect if the High Court ends up making those directions.
Trustees will seek an independent QC to be appointed to help in scrutinising whether trustees were exercising their powers appropriately.
Beneficiaries will be notified once the application is filed and all beneficiaries had the right to take part in the High Court process and be heard.
TECT chairman Bill Holland said the majority supportive feedback during consultation gave trustees the confidence to continue.
"As a result of these deliberations, trustees are satisfied that the proposal that was consulted on is the best solution to take forward," he said.
"We know how important TECT is to the Tauranga and Western Bay communities and it has been heartening to see the level of engagement from beneficiaries over the last month.
"We are confident that the final proposal will ensure that TECT will continue to bring long-lasting benefits to the Tauranga and Western Bay communities while future-proofing the rebate for existing beneficiaries," Holland said.
Asked where Trustpower was at regarding the potential sale of its retail arm, and when a decision on this was likely to be made, Trustpower general manager of markets Craig Neustroski said: "Trustpower continues to support TECT's aspiration to reform the Trust.
"We consider their process to be right and robust and seeks to protect the rights of existing beneficiaries, irrespective of the Trustpower strategic review."