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Hawaii Passes Bill To Democratize Clean Energy

Last week, Hawaii passed a landmark bill, SB 1087, which will allow the state to create and issue a “Green Infrastructure Bond.”  This bond structure will secure low-cost financing for a variety of clean energy installations, with a focus on reaching populations that cannot afford or do not have access to these energy saving improvements today.  The bond proceeds will be used to fund an on-bill program currently under development at the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC).  The on-bill program, which is very much in line with EDF’s recommendations for on-bill repayment (OBR), will provide access to low-cost financing for clean energy projects for residential and small commercial customers.

The bill’s intent is to use this low-cost capital to expand access to affordable clean energy for all of Hawaii’s consumers, acknowledging that “Existing programs and incentives do not serve the entire spectrum of the customer market, particularly those customers who lack access to capital or who cannot afford the large upfront costs required-thus creating an underserved market.”  Funding projects with a focus on serving populations that do not have access to other means of financing is especially important in the Aloha State, where electricity rates are the highest in the nation.

The state will issue the bonds and then repay bondholders with funds collected from a utility surcharge, providing a secure form of repayment.  The framework enables a portion of the existing Public Benefits Fee (PBF), currently charged to customers, to be redirected so that overall customer bills are not expected to increase. Read More »

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A Clean Energy Paradise In The Pacific

When people think Hawaiian paradise, usually beaches, sun and trade winds come to mind. The price of energy? Not so much.

The state actually has the highest electric rates in the nation, approximately 2 to 3 times higher than the average price on the mainland. Given these high rates and the relatively mild climate, it makes sense that Hawaii’s customers are among the lowest monthly consumers of electricity at 585 kWh per month. However, despite low energy use, Hawaii’s customers still have the highest electric bills in the nation, at a whopping $203 per month on average. That’s 20 percent higher than the next highest state’s average bill!

It’s appropriate, then, that the Aloha State is on the forefront of policy measures intended to lower energy bills by looking to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Hawaii’s sunny days, coupled with its extraordinarily high cost of electricity, make going solar a relatively attractive option. And, not to mention, a much cleaner option given that the state relies on petroleum to generate over 75 percent of its electricity. In fact, Hawaii ranks third in the nation for total installed solar electric capacity per capita. However, the upfront cost of installation remains a significant barrier to widespread adoption of clean energy technologies. Access to financing is limited to those with stellar credit, and there is little incentive for renters to pay for energy upgrades to properties they don’t own. In Hawaii, solutions that work for renters are especially important since over 40 percent of the state’s residents rent.

But all is not lost. On February 1st, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) delivered a blueprint of a promising on-bill program to help residents and small commercial customers — including renters — invest in cost-saving, clean energy projects. By allowing for repayment of private financing for energy efficiency and renewable projects on customers’ monthly utility bills, Hawaii would be the first-in-the-nation to offer a statewide residential and small commercial on-bill program. The program works for renters and property owners because the energy benefits and the repayment obligation transfer from tenant to tenant with the property, enabling customers to invest in projects that outlast their terms of occupancy. Read More »

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Hawaii Making Waves In Financing Clean Energy

Public Utility Commission orders on-bill program to finance clean energy

Last Friday evening, February 1, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) issued a landmark decision and order to create an on-bill program, very much in line with EDF’s recommendations for on-bill repayment (OBR), that will provide access to low-cost financing for solar and energy efficiency projects for homeowners and small businesses.  This decision comes 18 months after the State passed legislation directing the PUC to investigate an on-bill program and authorized the Commission to implement the program (by decision and order or by rules) if the on-bill program was found to be viable.

The PUC decision determined that a statewide on-bill program is viable, and specified program design criteria that the Commission deems necessary to achieve viability.  EDF has been working to shape the proposal with key stakeholders including environmental groups, lenders and the Hawaii State Energy Office.

The specified criteria include the following components that EDF believes are critical for achieving both success and scale:

  1. bill neutrality (project savings exceed financing payment obligations)
  2. tariff-based obligation
  3. tariff is tied to the utility meter and therefore transferable
  4. standard collection procedures, including disconnection for non-payment of OBR obligation
  5. pro-rata allocation of partial payments

Since the terminology can be confusing, it is worth noting that this is not a typical ratepayer-funded on-bill finance program, despite having the same designation. The Hawaii program leverages private capital, and the PUC supports participation by multiple sources of capital rather than a single financing entity.  EDF believes both of these elements are critical to scaling the program and meeting the needs of a diverse set of property owners.

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