Students power effort to boost energy efficiency

Star Advertiser - Apr 20, 2011
Chris Mikesell

More than 250 students rallied yesterday at the state Capitol in support of a proposal to give homeowners the option of financing solar electric panels, solar water heaters or energy-efficient appliances with the money they'd save on their electricity bills."There are 267,000 single-family homes in Hawaii, but only 4,000 of them have PV (photovoltaic) systems on their roofs," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kalaeloa-Maka­kilo). "If we're serious about getting off of foreign oil, this will help them get that system on their roof so they can be paying $18 a month (for electricity) instead of the statewide average of $200 a month."Students at the rally ranged from grade school through high school. They were from Nana­kuli and Roosevelt high schools, Le Jardin Academy, University Lab School and St. Francis School.Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation, said that before taking federal tax credits into account, installing a photovoltaic system normally costs Hawaii consumers $5,000 to $6,000."Right now it's really only the high-end folks who are buying photovoltaic," Miku­lina said. "Not everyone who wants a solar water heater has a few thousand bucks lying around."A barrier to installing solar panels on rental properties, he said, is that while tenants who pay for electricity have every incentive to lower their bills, landlords have little incentive to invest in photovoltaic systems because of the upfront cost. Under this system, the cost would be borne by the renter rather than the landlord because it would be incorporated in the electric bill."The idea behind this is it would allow consumers to pay it over time instead of paying it all up front," Miku­lina said.Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he supports the bill in its current form."Anything we do to advance energy independence or alternative energy has a positive effect because it keeps dollars in Hawaii," Abercrombie said in an interview. "As it stands now, virtually every power dollar leaves the state."For the program to work, private lenders willing to finance these green home improvements would have to step forward. So far, say Gabbard and Miku­lina, none have committed to providing the kind of credit that would be required."From a purely economic standpoint, this raises more questions than answers," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai)."If this were something that the bankers and the financial institutions could see as a profitable venture, then you wouldn't even need to have legislation. They would be all over it," Slom said.