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Hawaii law for affordable solar power signed


Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 7:59 a.m. HST, Jul 10, 2011

Hawaii home solar power installations could become more affordable under a law signed Friday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

The legislation calls for the investigation and possible creation of a system where residents could finance expensive up-front costs of solar power installations through their electric bills.

Abercrombie threatened to veto the measure just last week because of the unfunded strain it would put on state regulators, but private renewable energy groups led by the Blue Planet Foundation then offered to work with the state to cover expenses, his office said.

“If this partnership can come together as envisioned ... we can determine whether and how an on-bill financing program can be designed so that more people can participate in Hawaii’s clean energy future,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “Working together, we can advance our clean energy goals with the kind of urgency and determination that these times demand.”

The law could help defray costs of any renewable energy system, with its most widespread use being to aid homeowners when they want to install solar-powered hot water heaters or rooftop photovoltaic panels. 

Residents could slowly pay off their systems over several years through their monthly power bills.

“The biggest obstacle that residents face when it comes to adopting clean energy is the upfront cost, and on-bill financing eliminates that,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director for the Blue Planet Foundation, which supports renewable energy initiatives.

The measure calls for the Public Utilities Commission to investigate the viability of the program, known as on-bill financing.

If the commission finds it workable, it could create the program without any further legislation needed.

Hawaii could become the second state with an on-bill financing program after New York lawmakers approved similar legislation last month.

“It’s going to help homeowners get solar panels up on their roofs,” said Senate Energy and Environment Committee Chairman Mike Gabbard (D, Kalaeloa-Makakilo).

Solar hot water systems generally cost less than $2,000 after tax credits and government rebates, but rooftop panels can be much more expensive — around $10,000 for a typical system, said Hawaiian Electric Co. spokesman Peter Rosegg.

“The program has great potential for increasing the amount of renewable energy on customer locations,” Rosegg said. “It’s a good thing. We hope it can be smoothly implemented.”

The legislation orders the Public Utilities Commission to evaluate the costs of on-bill financing, whether it would save electric customers money and the ability of the utility company to recover costs incurred.

A proposal to immediately create on-bill financing failed in the Legislature earlier this year, but lawmakers revived the measure by calling for a study of the issue and allowing the PUC to implement it if possible.




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