Energy efficiency is within the city’s reach
If the Hannemann administration is serious about promoting sustainability initiatives, there is a way to fund projects using a third-party financing approach. Energy efficiency upgrades and many renewable energy projects, for example, pay for themselves. State law specifically allows for the use of energy performance contracting where the savings pays for the projects over a set period of time.
This approach is being widely used by federal facilities in Hawaii and elsewhere. Having private energy firms own the assets during the payback period offers many benefits that city government can't take advantage of otherwise. Tax credits and depreciation schedules, for example, are not available to government.
The city has traditionally cherry-picked energy projects with a bias toward short paybacks and whatever it could get funded in the annual budget. Every year that energy projects are put off, savings opportunities are lost and taxpayers are cheated.
An RFP or request for proposal was put together with the assistance of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism for a large-scale solar energy deployment at the city. Mayor Mufi Hannemann could use this to put solar on city land and facilities at no cost to taxpayers and at a huge savings to monthly energy bills. Using a company like SunEdison (I have no affiliation) they could design, install, manage, finance and maintain the solar system and the city would agree to buy the green energy at a cost per kilowatt hour less than what is paid to the Hawaiian Electric Co. today. Solar tax credits that are leveraged by private investors would cover much of the cost.
Another sustainability initiative that could be put into place quickly would be a sustainable water partnership between the state, the Board of Water Supply and the city. This agreement was drafted, reviewed by attorneys on all sides, and awaits signatures. It was modeled on a successful agreement with the University of Hawaii.
The BWS could use its avoided new water development costs to fund a expansion of the computerized irrigation system at Central Oahu Park to include all state and city facilities that irrigate. No more sprinklers coming on during a rain or in mid-day because the system uses weather data and doesn't require workers to manually water.
Much of sustainability is about making government more efficient and not wasting valuable resources. Large companies are finding it to be a good business model. Many cities around the country have embraced sustainability and put into place projects that make it happen. Sustainable Honolulu won national and international awards under a previous administration and should continue its excellent record of achievement.
It's time to get serious about sustainability and save taxpayers' money.
Steve Holmes, a former Honolulu City Councilman, served as energy and sustainability coordinator in Mayor Jeremy Harris' administration. His program, Sustainable Honolulu, won the U.S. Conference of Mayor's Livability Award for 2004. He also received the U.S. Department of Energy's 2002 National Energy Champion Award as president of Rebuild Hawaii, a local consortium that fosters energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives. He lives in Kailua-Kona.