Hawke's Bay accountant David Scott is on a mission to release $10,000 of equity to every household and business in Napier and Hastings.
He said $10,000 was a conservative value of electricity account holder's stake in Unison Networks, should the lines company be "freed" from the Hawke's Bay Power Consumers' Trust.
The trust owns Unison Networks on behalf of electricity account holders in Napier and Hastings.
Scott wants the consumer-owners to hold their shares in Unison themselves, eliminating the trust, so the shares could be listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange.
Consumer-owners could then choose to sell their shares, but would then lose out on annual dividends.
"For all eligible consumers the value of the shares to be issued would be approximately $10,000 and it would probably be quite in excess of this, assuming the stock exchange agreed to the listing of Unison Networks Ltd," Scott said.
While the trust is obliged to commission a review of ownership options for Unison every five years, Scott said the review has not let consumers know they could receive a windfall.
"In this ownership review one of the options that was considered was the allocation of these shares.
"However, I believe this option was poorly developed.
"There was no mention of applying for stock exchange listing and the financial ramifications of this option were not spelt out - telling power account holders the value of the shares they would receive and the future dividends they may receive, and saying they would have to deal directly with the company and they wouldn't have the trust as a middle-man."
Trust chair Diana Kirton presents a Catch-22 regarding the education of consumer-owners about the value of their stake in Unison.
"If the voice of the consumers - of the beneficiaries - was to say the company should be sold, at that point we determine a value," she said.
Numbers "bandied about" regarding the value of consumer's stake in Unison were "pure speculation".
Unison owns the electricity lines of Napier, Hastings, Taupō and Rotorua.
It also owns several other electricity-sector companies, some of them overseas.
But Unison's true value lies in its ability to make consistent profits, something that is easy for a natural monopoly of electricity supply.
Scott is not only critical of the trust for not fully-presenting sale options to consumer-owners, he says the annual dividend is not enough.
"If you have a look at the dividend the trust has paid out - over the last 22 years it has paid out $203 million worth of dividends - which means on the assets a return of about 1.7 per cent per annum," he said.
"Over this time inflation has been 2.2 per cent per annum.
"For an equity investment, a return of 1.7 per cent per annum is pretty unsatisfactory."
Kirton said Scott had a "different philosophy on the issue of dividends than the collective view of trustees" and that figures were always hard to work with.
"When it comes to values and rates of return, we are always very mindful of returning to consumers a reasonable dividend because this is a long-term investment."
The trust was intergenerational "and that's the value of it for Hawke's Bay power consumers".
"We get concerned if it doesn't feel right, but each year we distribute a return and push the company to provide us with a dividend that is reasonable.''
She said to put a value on Unison Networks was "just pulling a figure out of the air".
The trust's annual meeting in July presented Unison's accounts and declared a dividend of $230 to eligible power consumers, to be paid in November.
The $230 was thanks to a $15.8m dividend from Unison to the trust, from Unison's net after-tax profit of $33m. Revenue was $242.5m.
Scott was the only electricity consumer at the meeting who was not being paid to attend. The majority were Unison staff.
He said the lack of engagement with consumer-owners was further proof the trust was asleep behind the wheel.
Kirton said a lack of social media advertising was "a slip of ours" but advertisements were placed in community newspapers.
"It is the age-old problem of how do you get people, on a gorgeous Thursday afternoon, to want to go to a meeting when they haven't really got anything they are disappointed in?"
The trust combined its financial accounts with Unison's for the meeting, which Scott said placed an opaque barrier between Unison and its consumer-owners.
For now, he is a man alone in his quest to make consumer-owners receive more for their ownership stake in the highly-profitable Unison Networks.
But he has started a Facebook page, called Free Unison, hoping to rally like-minded people, so every Napier and Hastings household can have access to at least $10,000.
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