Council votes to ask state legislators to tighten solar water heater law

LIHU‘E — There are still a couple of hurdles for its wishes to come true, but the Kaua‘i County Council on Wednesday gave its unanimous stamp of approval on a possible amendment to a state law promoting renewable energy.

“This is a small step, but this is the only way we are going to get to energy sustainability; taking small steps,” Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura said.

What the council approved was a request to the Hawai‘i State Association of Counties to include in its package to the 2013 state Legislature a proposed amendment to Act 204, which was passed in 2008 and mandates new homes to be retrofitted with solar water energy systems.

A similar request was made in name of council to this year’s Legislature, but it stalled after passing one committee at the state Senate.

The state law allows a few variances based on: high-cost over the system’s life cycle, poor solar resource, existence of other renewable energy source and a choice to install tankless gas water heater, given that the home has at least one other appliance equipped with gas.

Since the law went into effect Jan. 1, 2010, this last variance has allowed 210 out of the 320 homes built on Kaua‘i to be equipped with tankless gas water heaters rather than solar water heaters. Those 210 homes amount to more than 65 percent of homes built on Kaua‘i.

By comparison, in the last three years, there were 5.27 percent of new homes on O‘ahu utilizing the variance, 12.08 percent on Maui County and 51.5 percent on Big Island.

Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura said she would support the request, but with reservations. Her reasoning was that there is insufficient data to make good decisions.

No one talked to any of those 210 homeowners who chose to use the variance, said Nakamura, adding that the request made on behalf of all those homeowners came from less than 10 people.

Rather than “demonize” those who chose the variance, the council should have a talk and try to understand their reasons, she said, because if the council’s request “doesn’t pass the Legislature, we are stuck with this problem.”

The request to HSAC, initiated by Yukimura, was nearly defeated by the council on Aug. 22. It only survived because Council Chair Jay Furfaro cast the last vote in favor of it, so the council’s decision would be a tie at 3-3 (Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i was absent due to illness). The tie prompted the request to be reposted as a special order of the day Wednesday, when all council members were present.

The amendment introduced by Yukimura on Wednesday was able to swing the votes of three council members — Nakamura, Mel Rapozo and Dickie Chang — who had previously voted against the request, and win approval from Kuali‘i.

The amendment preserves the variance, but it proposes to make it mandatory that those applying for the variance would have to be those who will “ultimately control the energy consumption cost,” and that as part of the application, the applicant has to sign an affidavit that he/she will be the “buyer-owner” of the new house and that he/she has read a flyer issued by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism showing comparisons of the life cycle cost of a solar water heater and tankless gas water heater. Rapozo, who had been strongly opposed to the request, said the amendment addressed his concerns regarding freedom of choice. Nakamura also said Yukimura’s amendment addressed her concerns.

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


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