HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Solar energy has been saving customers hundreds of dollars on their electricity bill, but only for homeowners who can afford thousands of dollars in upfront installation costs. That's about to change.
Through green infrastructure financing, residents can apply for state loans to cover the costs of installing rooftop photovoltaic systems or solar water heaters. Customers then repay the loans over time from the energy savings on their electrical bills.
LeiLei Shih is renting in Kaimuki. The electric bill is so high her landlords knock off a hundred dollars every month she doesn't use the dryer.
"Just last month's bill was $415. Incredible!" explained Shih.
For the first time ever, low-income families, non-profit organizations and renters like Shih will be able to afford renewable energy – thanks to a bill the Governor signed into law today.
Legislators say Senate Bill 1087 will eventually help phase out solar tax credits that cost the state approximately $174 million last year, but it will still keep Hawaii on track to reach its 70% renewable energy goal by 2030.
"This is something I think everyone can get behind – the solar industry, homeowners, the state – because it is going to open up doors that were never opened before to folks who could not afford it previously," described Representative Chris Lee, who co-authored the bill.
According to local company Revolusun, installation for rooftop photovoltaic systems can cost up to $30,000 depending on the size, but the solar energy savings are significant.
"As soon as the system is plugged in, they get immediate savings. So the bill can go down as low as to the customer charge from the utility which can be $16 a month. And then long term they're saving for as long as the system is producing power which can be up to 35 years," explained John Cheever, a Renewable Energy Developer with Revolusun.
Up until now, those savings were only passed down to businesses and homeowners, but approximately 40% of all Hawaii residents are renters, like Shih.
"Most renters probably wouldn't want to invest in installing solar panels on a house they're just renting because presumably at some point they're just going to move, but this means it's not a big upfront investment and you're paying the money on your electric bill anyway – so it makes a lot of sense," said Shih.