Some installers oppose solar water mandate
STORY SUMMARY »
| READ THE FULL STORY
A bill mandating the installation of solar water heaters on all new homes built after 2010 is generating support and opposition from unexpected sides.
Supporters say no time is greater for the bill than now, when oil costs are soaring above $100 a barrel.
But opponents, which surprisingly include some who install solar water heaters as well as residential developers, say they prefer the current incentive system to a mandate.
FULL STORY »
A bill mandating that all new single-family homes built after 2010 be outfitted with solar water heaters is gaining support, but also opposition from unexpected parts of the community.
Senate Bill 644, as currently written, would require the installation of solar water heaters in single-family homes built after Jan. 1, 2010. At the same time, it reduces the Hawaii tax credit for homes built after 2010 to 15 percent.
If it passes, Hawaii would become the first state to mandate solar water heaters on new homes.
Currently, homeowners who install solar water systems can get a state tax credit of 35 percent, a federal credit of 30 percent, and, if they use one of HECO's approved contractors, they can also qualify for an additional $1,000 rebate.
Surprisingly, local installers of solar water-heating systems are on the same side as Hawaii's builders, who oppose the new bill as currently drafted. The Sierra Club supports the bill, as do other environmental groups such as Life of the Land.
Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau), author of the bill, says it's time that the state takes the lead on alternative energy.
"At today's pace, we don't do nearly enough," said Hooser, whose inspiration for the bill came from weekly flights between Kauai and Oahu. "If you fly over the state you can tell clearly that we don't do enough. I look at all those rooftops and the vast majority are empty."
Hooser says the best time someone can put in a solar system is when the home is brand new. That way, the cost of the solar water heater is included in the home mortgage, he says, and the systems would pay off in a couple of years.
The time to do it is now, said Hooser, as oil costs soar above $100 per barrel.
But those in the solar industry say the bill fails to set quality standards, and that the current incentive system is better, because the homeowner -- not the developer -- benefits from the rebates.
Ron Richmond, representing the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, testified that the cost to the homebuyer would be about $2,100 more under the mandate. The average solar water heater currently costs about $5,250, before rebates.
Many developers -- some of which are beginning to offer solar systems to new homebuyers on their own -- also oppose the bill.
Michael Brant, vice president of engineering for Gentry Homes, testified in opposition to the bill. Gentry Homes has for the past three years installed solar water heaters as a standard feature in homes, he said, due to incentives in place.
"The incentives are already working," said Karen Nakamura, CEO of the Building Industry Association, which also opposes the bill. "If they increase the incentives, then more solar systems will be installed."
Nakamura says by making solar water heaters mandatory, the developers building new homes will pass on the costs to the consumer, affecting their ability to quality for the purchase of a new home.
But Jeff Mikulina of the Sierra Club, says while there are still kinks to iron out in the bill, he sees widespread community support for its concept.
"Most new homeowners are not putting solar on their homes," said Mikulina, referring to Haseko Homes' Ocean Pointe in Ewa Beach, and hundreds of new homes in Kapolei. "That's just the reality today."
Maui developer Everett Dowling of the Dowling Company, opposes the bill, saying it should consider technologies other than solar water heaters. Dowling said he is incorporating photovoltaic systems, but not solar-water heaters, into his Maluaka luxury development on Maui.
Photovoltaic systems use sunlight to generate electricity, which can then be used to power water heaters and for other purposes; solar-water heaters use the sun to heat water directly, but don't produce electricity.
HECO supports mandatory solar installation for new residential construction, said spokes- man Darren Pai. Since HECO's rebate program began in 1996, more than 39,000 solar water systems have been installed.
Last February, the HECO rebate increased from $750 to $1,000.
"We support the concept behind this bill," said Pai, "but we know there has to be a lot of work done on it, and we plan to continue to participate with those discussions."
Rep. Hermina Morita (D, Hanalei-Kapaa) said that despite the up-front costs, the mandatory solar water heater bill will benefit families in the long-run, and create it on a larger scale.
Hooser and the Sierra Club both support a state solar tax credit at 35 percent for existing homes, and the bill was recently amended to keep that in place. The bill next goes to a House Senate conference committee; it is due for final vote by May 1.
Senate Bill 644
Requires installation of solar water heaters in single-family residences constructed after Jan. 1, 2010.
» Author: Sen. Gary Hooser (D. Kauai-Niihau)
» Supporters: Sierra Club, Life of the Land
» Opponents: BIA, Hawaii Association of Realtors, Hawaii Solar Energy Association
» Current incentives: HECO Rebate: $1,000* Federal Tax Credit 30% State Tax Credit 35% * Requires using HECO-approved contractor