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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 25, 2010

Clean energy stalled by politics

By Lt. Gov. James 'Duke' Aiona

Despite the tremendous progress Hawai'i has made recently in building the foundation for a clean energy economy, many people I meet still ask, "What does this do for me?"

This is an important question that cuts to the heart of what we do as leaders. Our policies must go beyond benefiting "the economy" and provide tangible benefits for our citizens.

That is why it is regrettable and disappointing that legislators maneuvered last week to kill a bipartisan bill that would have created high-quality jobs, helped our citizens save money on their monthly electricity bills and kept hundreds of millions of dollars circulating in our local economy.

House Bill 2643, the Property Assessed Clean Energy bill, was one of many measures our administration proposed during the legislative session to ensure our energy policy delivers direct and tangible benefits to our citizens. It would have provided state-backed loans for homeowners and businesses to install clean energy equipment, such as photovoltaic panels, solar water heaters, and energy-saving insulation and lighting by allowing them to repay the money over time through their property tax bills.

The result would have allowed residents to achieve immediate savings that could be put to good use each month over several years on food, education, health care and other essential goods and services.

By moving toward a clean energy economy, there is a tangible benefit for working families and businesses to save money and enjoy a higher quality of life.

Moreover, greater access to financing allows more families and businesses to make energy improvements. This creates demand for services from builders and contractors, which in turn creates jobs. For instance, data show that more than 600 high-quality jobs are created if just 1 percent of homes are retrofitted for energy efficiency.

Not only would the program remove barriers and allow homeowners and businesses to save money, but energy efficiency retrofits also increase the value of the property. This benefits the real estate market as well as the county governments that depend on property taxes for revenue.

Unfortunately, lawmakers killed the program because there were "unanswered questions," which is a disingenuous excuse.

The Legislature held a dozen hearings over four months with ample time to ask questions. In fact, all of the questions that were raised have been answered.

The Blue Planet Foundation and the Sierra Club held a symposium early in the legislative process to address any questions, and the U.S. Department of Energy also provided a presentation and answered questions on the program in great detail.

Similar programs are launching across the country to fund clean energy improvements for thousands of homes in fact 18 states, along with their local municipalities, have adopted the program as serving a greater public good.

In November, President Obama provided program guidelines for states and counties to use, addressing the very issues now being raised as "unanswered questions."

After four committee hearings and three floor votes over the past three months, 114 votes were recorded in support of the bill, including by those who now say there are questions. In addition, more than 144 testimonies were submitted in support of the bill.

I met personally with all of the county mayors as well as the Hawai'i State Association of Counties. Support was widespread, especially on the Neighbor Islands.

To further this collaboration, we were working with the Neighbor Island counties to establish a statewide advisory council to ensure that the program was implemented successfully.

However, politics-as-usual reared its ugly head and stalled a better future for our citizens and our economy. Hawai'i remains the most oil-dependent state in the nation and our vulnerability to the volatile price and supply of fossil fuels clearly shows a need for the clean energy bond program.

After nearly 40 years of talk from elected officials about energy security, our administration took action to make real progress toward an energy-secure and self-sufficient future. The Hawai'i Clean Energy Initiative was launched in 2008 as a groundbreaking partnership between the state and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Since then, this partnership has evolved to include hundreds of participants and energy sector stakeholders, and I am committed to continuing Hawai'i on the path of meaningful progress toward energy security and self-sufficiency. However, we must work now to implement programs that provide direct benefits to Hawai'i's working families and businesses.

I maintain my strong belief in the power of innovative ideas and in my obligation to do what is right for the people of Hawai'i. We have no time to waste. Lowering the burden of volatile energy costs and creating jobs for our residents is too important to allow politics to get in the way.

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.