Committee upholds solar water heater variance

Léo Azambuja – The Garden Island

LIHU‘E — The County Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Wednesday unanimously rejected a proposal to address a variance in a 2004 state law that mandates new homes be equipped with solar-powered water heaters.

A variance in the law is allowing half of new homes on Kaua‘i and on the Big Island to be equipped with gas water heaters instead of solar systems. In other counties, the variance is about 5 percent.

“I think that (there) will come a day when we will see the wisdom of requiring technology that meets the level of solar water heater efficiency,” said Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, just prior to seeing her request voted down by the committee.

Yukimura had asked on Sept. 7 that a proposal to amend Chapter 196 of the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, requiring solar water heating for all new single-family and duplex construction, to be included in the 2012 Hawai‘i State Association of Counties Legislative Package.

Instead of ruling Sept. 7 on Yukimura’s request, the full council referred it to its Intergovernmental Relations Committee, of which Yukimura is not a member.

Councilman and HSAC President Mel Rapozo did not support the request, but stated from the beginning that, “Whatever the council decides is what I’ll take to Honolulu.”

Richard DeGarmo, director of renewable energy at The Gas Company, a mainland-based limited liability company, did a presentation to council members, demonstrating the differences in cost between gas and solar heater systems.

With an estimated 15-year life cycle for solar-heater system in Hawai‘i — including initial costs, federal credits and annual consumption — could cost homeowners $12,936. By comparison, a high-efficiency tankless gas heater could cost homeowners $9,601 over the same period and with all credits and expenses included.

Committee Chair KipuKai Kuali‘i said he is in “full support of clean and renewable energy,” but also voted against the proposal.

“It’s not so much the compelling reasons, but maybe more that at this point it still costs people money,” He said. “I believe the folks that can least afford it shouldn’t be put in that position.”

Councilman Dickie Chang said he didn’t believe this is the time to restrict people’s options, in light of the economic downturn.

Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura said she spoke with Mina Morita, chair of the state Public Utilities Commission, who told her the intent of the legislation is not only to move Hawai‘i toward self-sufficiency, but also to give people a choice.

Nakamura said some of the architects requesting the variance have said most of their clients prefer solar water heating but cannot afford the upfront costs.

Rapozo said that Hurricane Iniki in 1992 took his entire roof, and to this day he doesn’t know where his roof went. If he had a solar-heating system, it would have taken the system along.

But since his home had a gas water heater, his home became the neighborhood’s “bath house,” he said.

Yukimura quoted Councilman Tim Bynum — absent for personal reasons — saying that he had previously stated that he was against restricting people’s choice unless there is compelling evidence to do so.

Following Hurricane Iniki, Yukimura said she remembers staying up until 2 a.m. figuring out a law requiring hurricane clips on roofs of new constructions.

“At the time, the argument (against it) was choice,” she said.

Today, hurricane clips on rooftops is a public safety issue that everyone accepts, according to Yukimura.

“What I hear is that people don’t feel that there is compelling reason enough to require a technology that meets the standard of solar water heating,” she said.

The full council will take the issue on Oct. 5, when Yukimura, Bynum and Council Chair Jay Furfaro will be able to vote on the issue.

About 30 percent of Hawai‘i’s imported oil is used in electricity, and approximately $30,000 barrels of oil are used each day in Hawai‘i to generate electricity, according to Hawai‘i Energy, a ratepayer-funded conservation and efficiency program administered by SAIC under contract with Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission.

Last year, the state imported 46.3 million barrels of petroleum for energy use — about 36 barrels of petroleum for each person in the islands. Those barrels cost altogether $5.09 billion — that’s $4,000 for each person in the state.

Hawai‘i Energy states that 60 percent of the electricity sold by utilities in 2030 will still be fossil-fueled, even if the state meets the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative goals.

In 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the world consumed 87 million barrels of petroleum each day. The United States, which accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, consumed 19.18 million barrels per day — roughly 22 percent of the world’s oil consumption. All of Europe — 36 countries — consumed 15.31 million barrels per day.

The world has 6.96 billion people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. India has 1.21 billion people and China has 1.3 billion people.

India consumes 3.18 million barrels of oil a day and China 9.18 million barrels a day, according to EIA. Together, India and China account for 36 percent of the world’s population and 14 percent of the world’s oil consumption.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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