Twice this week, the Citizens & Ratepayers election placard for the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust poll in Victoria Park has greeted the dawn face down on the grass. It's the only sign of life in an unexciting contest - and I suspect the wind, rather than mischief-making rivals, is to blame.

Since the day the trust was set up as part of the Government-imposed energy reforms of the late 1980s and early 1990s, it has failed to grab the interest of its phantom owners, the power consumers of Auckland and Manukau cities and the part of Papakura served by the old Auckland Electric-Power Board. Even district health board elections seem fever-pitched in comparison.

At the last election three years ago, despite years of outrageous behaviour by warring trustees and a candidate dangling a handout of $3000-$4000 to each consumer if his policies were adopted, only 19 per cent of 273,209 eligible voters managed to lift a pen, lick the back of the freepost envelope, and do the democratic thing. Not even the trustees' controversial decision to allow 24.9 per cent of the shares in its only asset, the Vector lines company, to end up in private hands, caused any flurry. As for Bryan Leyland, the candidate offering the one-off handout, he polled a miserable 4305 and trailed 16th out of 20 hopefuls.

Maybe many abstained to ensure marital harmony because in this particular election it's not a case of one person, one vote, but one consumer one vote. The instructions are clear. "If a consumer is named as husband and wife, then a voting paper will be sent to husband and wife jointly and it is then over to them to decide who will vote."

To me, if the turnout in the postal ballot, beginning today, is as bad as normal, it's a sure sign that the eventual owners, the councils of Auckland, Manukau and Papakura, should make a serious bid to bring forward the eventual transfer. Think what we as a community could do with the $98 million dividend that last month was scattered out in $320 lots to 273,000-plus households.

Before recipients start screaming, it's worth recalling the random way they inherited this annual windfall. Back in 1993, central Government ordered the closure of the venerable old community-owned Auckland Electric-Power Board along with similar businesses nationwide. It was similar to the forced restructuring of the customer-owned Auckland Savings Banks a decade before.

Power consumers were offered alternative ownership structures, including the bribe of a few hundred shares apiece for nothing. Power consumers on the North Shore and in West Auckland grabbed the quick buck, but in the more civic-minded areas of the region, public ownership was retained, via a trust, until 2073, at which time ownership would go to the three local councils. Until the 2073 changeover, any customer in the area once served by the old AEPB was deemed a part-owner. Oddly, if you left the area or died, you lost this property right, and if you came into the area, you automatically gained it. By natural attrition if nothing else, by 2073 the vast majority of dividend receivers will be getting the handout by quirk of fate. An inheritance by postal code.

At the last election, Mr Leyland proposed winding up the trust, privatising the company and giving each consumer a one-off handout. The residual $900 million would go to the three councils involved.

To me, privatising such a profitable and vital facility seems daft, but I have no concerns about taking it out of the hands of what have become a gaggle of self-selecting trustees, and using the dividends for important community infrastructural needs.

That seems a much better exploitation of this community asset than the present lolly scramble.

The Powerlynk ticket pussyfoots around this in an election pledge offering to establish a community fund to support community-based power-saving and energy projects. But they're talking a piddling $5 million and promising to retain the annual handout at $300 or more. Surely energy-saving schemes should be part and parcel of Vector's core function, not something extra to be funded out of the owners' dividend.

With the Super City structure slowly emerging, what better time to fast-track the 2073 transfer of the energy trust back into public hands. With the important proviso that the income goes into special community projects, along the lines of the ASB Community Trust's excellent work. For that matter, who better to do it.