Solar boom ... or bust?

Published: Dec. 13, 2012 at 12:12 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2012 at 3:32 AM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's already booming solar industry is seeing a new stampede of business in the wake of new state rules that will reduce Hawaii's generous solar tax credits by half.

For some solar installers, it's all hands on deck as the companies scramble for every possible contract.

"(It's) long hours of working on weekends and of working into the daylight hours and of getting in as many systems for people as they possibly can until this new law comes in January 1st," said Leslie Cole-Brooks, executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association.

The new tax rules will place a $5,000 cap on the solar tax credits. Many homeowners receive rebates of double that amount.

Workers around the state are wracking up hundreds of hours of overtime in order to meet the soaring demand.

"We're doing 10 hours a day. Last week we did seven days -- 70 hours -- so we're pretty busy," said Garrett Rule, a solar PV installer at Sunetric.

"It gets the bills paid."

But many believe the new year will ring in tougher times for Hawaii's solar industry.

"If that happens, people will probably lose their jobs and we already know that some larger projects have been stalled out," said Cole-Brooks.

Alex Tiller, Sunetric's CEO, has seen his company grow from 37 employees in 2010 to about 150 today.

He says the slowdown will be felt less by long-established local companies like Sunetric. But many of the smaller companies formed during the tail end of Hawaii's green boom could face hard times.

"There is enough noise that ... yeah ... it is possible that you could see some businesses pull out in the next short window of time," he said.

That's one of the reasons the Sierra Club and Earthjustice is suing the state to block the new tax rules.

"The Sierra Club has heard from literally hundreds of its members that the change in tax rules is going to make it difficult , if not impossible, for them to put solar panels up on their roof," said David Henkin, attorney for Earthjustice.

The tax credits are for $5,000. The problem, according to the state, is that too many homeowners are scamming the system by taking multiple  tax credits when they should only get one.

"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," said Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

Along with the lawsuit, environmentalists and Hawaii's solar industry plan to take their fight to the Legislature to get the old tax credits back. But that could take months even if they succeed.