Lingle signs solar water heater bill

Hawai‘i became the first state in the nation to require the installation of solar water heater systems on new single-family homes yesterday after Gov. Linda Lingle signed into law a bill to increase the use of the state’s most abundant resource — sunshine.

The measure — introduced by Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau — prohibits the issuance of a building permit on or after Jan. 1, 2010, for single-family homes that do not have solar water heaters.

“I’m very pleased that the governor recognized the significance of this legislation,” Hooser said. “This is a proven technology.”

Hooser said he hopes to encourage similar legislation in other states with ample sunshine, such as California and Florida.

The bill, which becomes Act 204, also directs the state Public Utilities Commission to establish standards for the solar water systems; each county would be responsible for the implementation procedures.

“This solar power legislation is another important step in our long-term plan for energy independence in Hawai‘i,” Lingle says in a press release. “In addition to solar, it is critical that we continue to develop innovative energy solutions that capitalize on our natural renewable resource advantages in order to achieve our goal of having 70 percent clean energy in Hawai‘i by 2030.”

Exceptions to the new law will be allowed in cases where homes are built in locations with low levels of sunshine, where the life cycle analysis of the solar heater system proves to be cost-prohibitive or if the home uses a substitute renewable energy source.

Supporters of the bill say the solar water heaters, which cost roughly $5,000, will pay for themselves in less than three years.

With residential utility rates at 41 cents per kilowatt-hour on Kaua‘i, the system can be paid back in 2.8 years, according to state Rep. Mina Morita, D-14th District.

“We really need to get our heads around how to deal with the upfront costs,” Morita said. “It’s one of the most important bills that puts money back into people’s pockets.”

The life of the solar water heaters are guaranteed for over 10 years and the costs of the system could also be rolled into a mortgage, she added.

While Hooser lobbied for the legislation in the Senate, Morita carried the bill in the House.

“We were looking for actions in the Legislature that are truly transformational,” Morita said. “Energy is taking such a toll on the economy and households. If we finance this right, we benefit so much from it.”

Ben Sullivan, a local renewable energy expert, said the new law was a small but important step.

“The governor as well as other legislators understand the importance (of the new law),” he said. “I hope it paves the way for other legislation in the state.”

Sullivan added that residents will save money with the new mandate.

“The more solar water heaters installed equals less fossil fuel dollars leaving the state,” Sullivan said. “It will do nothing but lower people’s electric bills.”

According to the press release from the governor’s office, there are some provisions and language of concern in the bill, including eliminating the existing 35 percent tax credit for solar water heater installations for residential developers of single-family homes beginning Jan. 1.

The wording implies that existing homeowners would have to seek a building permit to install a system before Jan. 1, 2010, in order to claim the tax credit.

The bill is also vague on whether existing single-family homes can gain a 20 percent wind-power tax credit and a 35 percent photovoltaic tax credit for new residences built in 2009 and existing homes after Jan. 1, 2010.

The Lingle-Aiona administration plans to introduce measures in the next legislative session to clarify the language and ensure tax credits for solar water heating, wind and photovoltaic systems for homes built in 2009 and after Jan. 1, 2010.


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