The state of Hawaii has passed a first-of-its kind clean-energy financing measure that will make it easy for residents of the Aloha State to go green and install clean energy, while saving some green at the same time. The Sierra Club and a coalition of environmental and labor groups championed the measure, which will reduce the upfront costs of solar energy and energy-efficiency for residents and small businesses.
Above, State Senator Mike Gabbard, chair of the Energy & Environment Committee; Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation (and former Hawaii Sierra Club organizer); State Senator Russell Ruderman, vice-chair of the Energy & Environment Committee; and Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii Chapter, at a "Power to the People" rally the Club co-sponsored in March.
In passing the clean-energy bill, S.B. 1087, which prevailed 23-1 in the Senate and 50-1 in the House, the Hawaii State Legislature voted to make available hundreds of millions of dollars of private capital and low-cost bonds that can be accessed each year for residential and small commercial clean-energy projects. Ratepayers will be able to pay for the installations over time through lower monthly utility bills.
"We see this as a novel model that removes several of the perceived hurdles to adopting clean energy," Harris says. "The program proposes no additional costs to ratepayers, it allows residents to save money, it creates good jobs, and it reduces air pollution. It lowers the cost of home ownership, helps lower-income people who might not be able to get bank loans, and opens up clean energy and energy-efficiency opportunities to renters, who make up 40 percent of Hawaii's housing market. What's not to like?"
Actress Evangeline Lilly, best-known for her star turns in Lost and The Hobbit, was among the Hawaii residents lending her vocal support to the measure.
"As a big fan of clean energy and a 10-year resident of Hawaii, I proudly support this effort to make clean energy more accessible to all Hawaiians," she says. "Tens of thousands of residents could see their electric bills go down if they sign up for the program."
The Sierra Club worked with dozens of stakeholders, including Hawaii's State Energy Office, which helped brainstorm the innovative financing concept, to get the measure passed. The Club sent out action alerts, wrote articles, op-eds, and letters-to-the-editor of local newspapers, and directly lobbied members of the state legislature.
The Club also hosted Cisco DeVries, president and CEO of Renewable Funding and a leading expert on clean-energy financing, while he was in Hawaii. The legislature held an informational briefing where DeVries spoke, and the Sierra Club hosted several local solar companies and clean-energy advocates to a luncheon with DeVries as the main speaker.
"Hawaii's new program isn't just good for the environment, it's incredibly smart fiscal policy," DeVries says. "This idea corrects a market failure. Too many people can't afford the upfront cost of converting to clean energy, even though these investments easily pay for themselves over time. This measure goes a long way toward solving this problem and it establishes a national model for other states to follow."
Also among the Club's allies was Hawaii's powerful carpenters' union, for whom the clean-energy measure was a top priority. "Together, we knocked on a whole lot of doors and spoke personally to just about every legislator in Hawaii," Harris says.
The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission in now establishing regulatory standards for the program, with a proposed start date of January 2014.
Governor Abercrombie, who made this concept one of his administration's highest priorities, is expected to sign the measure into law quickly.
"Hawaii can be proud to lead the nation with this policy," Harris says. "It shows how we can help our environment and put money back in people's pockets at the same time."