On-Bill Financing Back From The Dead

Civil Beat - April 27, 2011
Michael Levine

Clean energy advocates have spoken โ€” and the Legislature is listening.House Bill 1520, which will be heard Thursday, now instructs the state to "investigate" allowing people to pay to install clean energy technology through their monthly power bills.The measure appeared to have stalled Tuesday after House Energy Committee Chair Denny Coffman told Civil Beat he wouldn't hear the proposal in its current form before the end of the legislative session. The Associated Press went so far as to say lawmakers were "killing" the bill.But Coffman granted on-bill financing new life after clean energy advocates pushed him to reconsider โ€” and met him halfway on the proposal. Coffman said the watered-down version that will be discussed at Thursday's 3:20 p.m. hearing didn't come from Senate Energy Committee Chair and on-bill financing proponent Mike Gabbard but instead from the Blue Planet Foundation that has in recent days criticized the Big Island representative for not taking action."It's important to Blue Planet, and they've got a following," Coffman told Civil Beat in an interview in his office Wednesday afternoon just minutes after the hearing notice was posted online. "They're a leader in our state."Coffman staffers said the office had been experiencing heavier-than-usual call volume this week, which coincides with efforts by Blue Planet and others to put pressure on Coffman to hear the bill.Coffman never ruled that course out, telling Civil Beat Tuesday that he would consider a measure calling for a Public Utilities Commission study of on-bill financing."If (Gabbard) comes to my office tomorrow and plops down a study for the PUC to do something, I could certainly support that, because that's a position that the PUC and other folks have taken," Coffman said Tuesday. On Wednesday, he clarified that he was looking for something that "moves it forward but does no harm."Earlier in the session, HB 1520 was amended from directing the PUC to implement the program to directing the PUC to consider implementing the program. The proposed draft CD1 [pdf] provided by Coffman to Civil Beat goes one step further, removing the teeth from the previous version and installing the study Coffman sought.It states that the PUC "shall investigate" an on-bill financing program. The CD1 version also explicitly states that the commission "may implement an on-bill financing program by decision and order or by rules pursuant to (Hawaii Revised Statutes) chapter 91" โ€” in other words, without coming back to the Legislature.Coffman said the "investigate" language is better than the previous "shall consider" language because it doesn't require the PUC to go through a rule-making process."It's the first step," he said. "It keeps things moving in the right direction."