Honor Earth Day by resurrecting 'green' bond bill


POSTED: Thursday, April 22, 2010

What seemed like imminent creation of a program to vitalize Hawaii's economy while helping homeowners pay for solar energy should have been celebrated today on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, but state legislators have backed away. Success with similar programs on the mainland in avoiding feared mortgage complications should resurrect the bill in the Legislature's closing days.

The measure to provide state bond financing to homeowners wanting to install rooftop solar panels, solar hot water heaters and energy-efficient appliances received broad support before legislative committees. Bonds to finance the solar additions would be paid off through payment of property tax bills.

Environmentalists and the Lingle administration joined in encouraging enactment of the bill, a major step to expand clean energy and provide an economic stimulus for the state.

However, after both the House and Senate approved versions of the bill, leaders are set to kill it before tomorrow's deadline for legislation to advance to a final vote.

Rep. Hermina Morita, chairwoman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, said “;lots of unsolved issues”; have caused its death.

Morita blamed disputes over types of bonds to be issued, the program's administration and the possibility of energy loan liens supplanting main mortgage liens. Her committee should have sought answers to those questions during hearings. Instead, Morita appears to have succumbed to last-minute opposition by the Mortgage Bankers Association of Hawaii, which submitted no testimony in the February and March hearings.

Several counties expressed concern about mortgage issues during the hearings but legislators apparently were satisfied that potential problems had been handled successfully in 16 other states that have property-assessed, clean-energy bond financing or loan programs.

Those concerns were addressed in testimony by Theodore E. Liu, Gov. Linda Lingle's director of business, economic development and tourism. He pointed out that municipalities have used public financing for improvements in the public interest for more than a century.

In Sonoma County, Calif., Liu said, the program “;actually created value for the mortgage lending and real estate industries”; because the solar additions raised property values. He added that homeowners participating in the program must meet strict guidelines, including not having been delinquent in mortgage payments and taxes.

Responding to a special interest, Morita now talks about the Legislature ordering a study of the issue. That means either that legislative leaders failed to use the committee hearing process to ask the tough questions — answerable though they were — or could not bear to allow a Republican administration in its last year to be credited for a major environmental initiative. In either case, property owners and Hawaii's economy are left waiting.