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South Canterbury Federated Farmers resources committee chairman Colin Hurst, of Makikihi,

by Chris Tobin

South Canterbury Federated Farmers wants Alpine Energy Ltd’s local ownership locked in with a community trust and hopes to have a public referendum on the matter as part of October’s local body elections.

“The concern overwhelmingly is to retain ownership in the community,” SCFF resources committee chairman Colin Hurst, of Makikihi, said.

“We want to lock it in so that no-one can tinker with it in the future.”

“A need to have directors with a high level of business acumen was also identified.”

Investigations were being made for the public to have their say on a change of ownership to a trust by way of a referendum.

“We’ll be looking at the Local Government Act.”

Local Government NZ confirmed to The Courier that a referendum could be held at the same time as the local election.

Last year the Timaru District Council’s financial arm, Timaru District Holdings Ltd, proposed selling its 47.5% share in the lines company for about $110million with $22million to be spent on debt.

Timaru district mayor Damon Odey.

Timaru Mayor Damon Odey pushed the sale and said Timaru District Holdings, of which he was chairman, would be better off investing elsewhere while Alpine Energy “would be better suited to a larger investor with specialist knowledge of the energy distribution market”.

Former ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie came to Timaru supporting the proposal.

After a public backlash in which most of the 500 submitters opposed the proposal, Mr Odey changed his mind and voted with the rest of his council to oppose the sale.

Last month, Timaru district councillors voted for an independent review of Timaru District Holdings and to appoint an independent chair.

Mr Hurst said while the proposal to sell had been soundly rejected by the public, more certainty was needed.

“There is no guarantee that such action would not be repeated and the outcome different to the detriment of the electricity consumer.”

A meeting of SCFF’s resources committee voted unanimously to have shares held by a community trust, as existed in Waitaki.

Major investment . . . Alpine Energy’s purpose-built headquarters in Washdyke. PHOTO: COURIER FILES

Mr Hurst said extensive discussion took place over the need to ensure those entrusted with the shares treated them as a community investment and not as a potential source for “maximum return”.

“A need to have directors with a high level of business acumen was also identified.”

Three months ago the Commerce Commission criticised Alpine Energy for not upgrading its lines and breaching outage limits.

Last year, when submissions on a possible sell-off were called, South Canterbury Federated Farmers said in its submission the proposal was “akin to the butler selling off his employer’s family silver to improve the servants’ quarters”.

The other shareholders in Alpine Energy are Lines Trust South Canterbury (40%), Waimate District Council (7.96%) and Mackenzie District Council (4.96%).