Mandatory solar bill is worthy of enthusiastic support
Of all the steps we will take toward honoring our commitment to a sustainable Hawaii, requiring the installation of solar water heaters in new construction as proposed in Senate Bill 644 is undoubtedly the easiest, most effective and smartest move we can make. While the price of oil hovers around $100 a barrel and threatens to rise, sunlight is unlimited and free. If all new single-family detached residential homes built in Hawaii used solar heaters as their primary source of hot water, Hawaii would lower its dependence on foreign oil by nearly 5.5 barrels per household annually, or more than 30,700 barrels statewide.
Using a solar water heater, a typical family of four will save almost $50 every month over the cost of an electric heater. Multiply that by the number of new homes built each year, and Hawaii residents realize a savings of approximately $3.3 million the first year alone. After only 10 years, the annual savings could grow to $33.3 million and continue to rise.
Requiring solar water heaters in new home construction would cost the state nothing. Instead, the manufacturing and installation of new solar heating systems would create jobs and economic activity, increasing local spending, circulating more money in our economy and generating additional state tax revenues.
But the benefits will be measured in more than dollars alone. The environmental impact of solar energy is well known. Cleaner air and lower carbon emissions represent significant and obvious benefits. An average four-person household with a conventional electric water heater consumes about 6,400 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, releasing eight tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That's almost double the amount of CO2 emitted by an average car. Solar-powered heaters release no harmful emissions whatsoever.
Opponents will argue that installing solar water heaters increases the cost of housing. However, the significant reduction in energy expenses and thus the actual cost of home ownership that accompany the installation of solar heating far outweigh the minimal increase in construction costs. Also, rather than paying for a retrofit in later years, installing a solar hot water system when a home is first being designed and built is without question the most affordable option.
Opponents have lobbied hard against similar proposals in the past, claiming concerns with regard to "quality control" and stating their belief that the present system is working well. Others have opposed the measure based on general concerns about "government mandates." While those objections need to be considered, they do not rise to a level that should prevent this legislation from passing into law. The truth is that quality control concerns can be adequately dealt with via the legislation and though the present system might appear to work well for those existing solar businesses, only a small fraction of rooftops in Hawaii utilize solar panels.
Requiring the installation of solar hot water heaters in new single-family homes just makes sense. Hawaii has the opportunity to lead our nation in increasing solar power's presence and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. In the alternative, every barrel of oil we burn to generate the electricity it takes to power electric heaters represents a potential environmental debt that we impose on future generations.
I encourage Hawaii residents to show their enthusiastic support for Senate Bill 644. It benefits the environment and the economy, dramatically increases our state's energy security, reduces the cost of home ownership and costs our state nothing in tax revenue. This is a no-brainer.
Senate Bill 644 was heard and was passed out of the House Committees on Human Services and Housing, and Energy and Environmental Protection on Thursday and now moves on to the House Committee on Economic Development and Business Concerns.
Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) is the primary author of SB 644 and is the Senate majority leader.