Hawaii Developers Must Install Solar Water Heaters

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle on June 26 signed into law a bill that requires the installation of solar water heating systems on new single family homes.

"This solar power legislation is another important step in our long-term plan for energy independence in Hawai'i," said Lingle. "In addition to solar, it is critical that we continue to develop innovative energy solutions that capitalize on our natural renewable resource advantages in order to achieve our goal of having 70 percent clean energy in Hawai'i by 2030."

The measure prohibits the issuing of building permits for single-family homes that do not have solar water heaters starting Jan. 1, 2010. Exceptions will be allowed in cases where homes are built in locations with low rates of sunshine such as forested areas, where the life cycle analysis of the solar system proves to be cost-prohibitive, or if the dwelling uses a substitute renewable energy source.

The bill, which becomes Act 204, would also allow homebuilders to use gas-demand-water heaters, which use a small tank to heat up water quickly when the faucet is turned on, if the home includes another gas appliance.

Under the measure, the Public Utilities Commission is tasked with setting standards for the water heaters, and the counties would establish implementation procedures.

There are certain provisions and language in the bill that are of concern, including eliminating the existing 35 percent tax credit for solar water installations for residential developers of single-family residences starting Jan. 1, 2009.

The bill also appears to eliminate the tax credit for owners of existing residential single-family homes after Jan. 1, 2010. While this may not have been the intent of the bill, the language implies that existing homeowners would have had to seek a building permit to install a solar water heater prior to 2010 to claim the tax credit.

The bill also clouds whether existing single-family residences can obtain a 20 percent wind-power tax credit and a 35 percent photovoltaic tax credit for new single-family structures built in 2009 and for existing single-family residences after Jan. 1, 2010.

The Lingle-Aiona Administration will introduce legislation in the next legislative session to clarify this language and ensure the tax credits for solar water, wind, and photovoltaic systems for new single-family homes built in 2009 continue as well as ensuring access to this important tax credit for existing residences after Jan. 1, 2010.

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