Sierra Club and Governor square off on solar tax credits

Sierra Club and Governor square off on solar tax credits
Governor Neil Abercrombie
Governor Neil Abercrombie
Robert Harris
Robert Harris

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The New Year will mean fewer tax credits on solar panel installations. The Sierra Club and Earthjustice filed a legal challenge of Governor Neil Abercrombie's plan to cut solar tax credits in half, but the governor took it as an insult and isn't backing down.

The Governor says he's just closing a loophole for cheaters, but the Sierra Club says there's no cheating involved and the governor is breaking the law by trying to change the law.

"It is an insult to the people of Hawaii to say that in order for us to get alternative energy you have to shut our eyes to cheaters," said Governor Abercrombie.

The state tax credit is a onetime $5,000 break.  But the claim is people install their system and get the tax credit. Then go back the next year, add more circuit breakers and inverters and get another credit.  It adds up to nearly $174 million this year alone that's not in the budget.

"When some people cheat and put in systems that are doubled or tripled or whatever they do in order to pretend that they need more than one system that takes away from the capacity of honest people to do things honestly," said Governor Abercrombie. "If the Sierra Club wants to take the position we should shut our eyes to deliberate corruption and cheating to accomplish their particular goal than I think that speaks volumes about the Sierra Club and the misdirection it is going."

"That's not at all true. The Governor tried to pass a bill last year in the legislature and the legislature rejected it and now what the governor is trying to do is executively bring that about without going back to the legislature because he knows he can't get his bill passed," said Robert Harris, Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter Director. "He doesn't have the authority to do this."

Furthermore Harris says it's not cheating because it's not against the rules.

"It's plainly not a loophole. In fact it's clear if you have a technical reason for doing multiple PV installations you can take multiple tax credits and everyone is relatively clear this is permitted and it's in fact the law. This is what you can and should do," said Harris. "No it's not cheating. Really what the governors concern is the amount of money going to this because he wants more money to go to his budget."

"Shame on them. Shame on the Sierra Club. Shame on anybody who is actually going to go into court and say that we have a policy point of view and we're so determined to have that policy succeed that even if people are cheating and we know they're cheating that that's okay," said Gov. Abercrombie.

The Sierra Club is confident it will win in court and in the court of public opinion.

"It's not just anti environment, it's going to make him look anti jobs.  Approximately 20 percent of the construction jobs are in the solar field and the reality is there will be a drastic impact and we're going to see layoffs," said Harris. "I don't really think he is seeing the full picture here."

"If it's anti environment to be honest then I tell you that speaks volumes about the Sierra Club leadership. I don't think this was vetted with the membership at all. I think this was the decision of a small number of people meeting in a closed room who decided it was okay to cheat," said Gov. Abercrombie.

How quickly relationships turn.  The Sierra Club endorsed Abercrombie for Governor two years ago.

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