Millions of dollars paid to power consumers every year is at stake as partisan politics enter the Hawke's Bay Power Consumers' Trust October election.
The trust is mailing cheques for $200 to all electricity account holders in Napier and Hastings next week as it distributes increasing dividends from consumer-owned Unison Group, but a group of candidates wishes to cap the dividend at current levels.
Unison achieved an after-tax profit of $40.7 million this year, up from $24.6 million last year. An increased dividend of $12.7 million was paid to the trust this year, up from $9.7 million last year when the dividend cheque to 55,000 consumers was for $150.
Five candidates wish to consult with the community about diverting some of the profits to community projects. They are recently retired Unison Group chairman and current Hawke's Bay District Health Board (DHB) chairman Kevin Atkinson, former Napier MP and Cabinet Minister Chris Tremain, paediatrician and former Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, DHB board member and former Napier mayor Barbara Arnott and DHB member and former pharmacist Peter Dunkerley.
"The group of five strongly support the continuation of cheques going to consumers," Mr Atkinson said.
The amount sent would be kept at current levels "at least" and linked with inflation.
"We want to consult with the community as to what we do with the increasing growth of the dividend moving forward, due to the surpluses coming from the unregulated activities of Unison."
Originally the Hawke's Bay Electric Power Board, Unison's electricity lines company is closely controlled by the Commerce Commission to ensure reliability and protect consumers. However Unison's unregulated subsidiary companies have significant growth prospects, not least from Auckland-based transformer company ETEL which has an Indonesian arm scaling up production in the world's fourth-most populated country.
Mr Tremain was "keen for a conversation with the community" about diverting a portion of the dividend into community projects.
"I don't have a fixed position on the amount and would be guided by the community consultation," he said.
Three incumbent trustees are pledging to keep all dividends flowing to consumers, using the election slogan "Your cheque - your choice". In a statement Diana Kirton, Helen Francis (both DHB boardmembers) and Ken Gilligan said the five candidates' "pet community projects" should be paid for through rates, taxes or sponsorship.
"We have kept faith with the trust deed because the money belongs to power consumers connected to the Unison network and we believe they should choose how to spend it," the statement said.
The trust already diverts dividend funds for community projects, this year pledging $1.7 million to accelerate Unison's programme to replace poles and overhead lines with underground services. Retiring trust chairman John Newland said while they were still viable "we know that consumers prefer to see them replaced for aesthetic reasons".
Previously the trust provided seed money for government home-heating funding and subsidised electric blankets testing.
Also running to be one of five trustees are retiring Napier Port CEO Garth Cowie, insurance broker Bill Reilly, accountant Giles Pearson, former Hawke's Bay Regional Councillor Liz Remmerswaal and consultant electrical engineer and former trustee John Geoghegan.