Energy bill amended, gives PUC option to consider home financing program

Hawaii Independent Staff

HONOLULU — Lawmakers agree that with the help of some sort of financing program, Hawaii residents would be able to easily purchase solar power and energy-saving appliances with no upfront cost. House Bill 1520 passed through conference committee Thursday, advancing a bill that considers allowing consumers to pay for energy efficiency upgrades through energy savings on their utility bill. The bill allowed for the extension of low- or no-interest loans to residential customers who are interested in making energy-efficient upgrades such as installing rooftop solar systems or Energy Star appliances.

Rep. Denny Coffman (D) and Sen. Mike Gabbard (D) introduced the bill. Following news that the bill was in jeopardy, residents across the state adamantly voiced their support, flooding legislators’ offices with phone calls, letters, and email. The overwhelming response helped convince Coffman to rescue the measure and find a compromise that satisfied all parties.

“This bill succeeded because concerned residents statewide took the initiative to vocalize their support,” said Blue Planet Foundation executive director Jeff Mikulina. “People exercising the power of democracy will now, literally, bring power to the people.”

Hawaii is one of the most fossil fuel dependent states in the nation despite having some of the most diversified renewable energy options and sources in the world. Financial barriers often prohibit Hawaii residents and businesses from purchasing renewable energy systems or energy efficient devices.

On-bill financing is one tool to promote the adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy technology by overcoming the barrier of up-front costs, conference committee members said. However, rather than move forward immediately with a financing program, the committee is directing the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to take more time to see how feasible it is.

The amended bill instead requires the PUC to investigate an on-bill financing program that would allow an electric utility company customer to purchase a renewable energy system or energy efficient device by providing for billing and payment through an assessment on the customer’s electricity bill, rather than requiring the PUC to consider implementing such a program.

The amended bill also allows the PUC to implement an on-bill financing program if on-bill financing is determined by the PUC to be viable.

A handful of other clean energy measures are also being considered at the Legislature:

House Bill 1019 is a critical measure to allocate funding from the existing barrel tax to support the State Energy Office. The Energy Office is currently funded with federal dollars that will expire within the year.

Senate Bill 1482
provides additional regulatory guidance to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), directing the commission to consider clean energy in their decision-making. The bill requires the PUC to “explicitly consider, quantitatively or qualitatively, the effect of the State’s reliance on fossil fuels on price volatility, export of funds for fuel imports, fuel supply reliability risk, and greenhouse gas emissions,” among other changes.

Senate Bill 146
requires that diesel fuel sold in the state contain at least 5 percent locally produced biodiesel.