Consider costs of mandating solar thermal energy

HAWAII - One of the measures still under consideration at the Hawaii State Legislature mandates the installation of solar thermal devices in all residential construction undertaken after January 1, 2010.

Of course, all of the environmentalists think it is a great idea as it would lessen Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuels when it comes to heating water.

Sounds like it be plausible until one sits through a hearing where all interested parties come to the table and another picture begins to unfold.

From the environmentalists point of view, it seems like “motherhood and apple pie” that widespread use of such devices will insure that Hawaii residents will not need as much fossil fuel in the future since water heating will be done by solar heat.

They showed aerial pictures of some recent housing developments out on the West side of Oahu noting that they were built more than five years ago and not one of the units has a solar panel on the roof.

Well, darn, aren’t those families concerned about their electric bills? With all of the tax incentives and rebates from the electric company, one would think that at least one of those families would have installed a solar thermal system by now.

However, as someone from the building industry pointed out, many of those homes were not built to accommodate solar thermal energy devices and to now retrofit them with the plumbing and the closet space needed for an 80 or 120-gallon tank and a roof strong enough to support the solar panels would be cost prohibitive even with the tax credits and the electric company rebates.

Building industry officials went on to point out that seven out of the 12 developers who provide 80 percent of the annual output of new homes have already made changes to their floor plans to accommodate a solar thermal device should the new homeowner want to install one. Other developers are offering such devices as an option.

While some critics have criticized developers and contractors for opposing a mandate, others including those in the solar industry, believe there may be unintended consequences as a result of the mandate.

For example, the measure would repeal the tax credit for those installations made under the mandate, thereby increasing the cost to the new homeowner.

And since the solar thermal device would be mandated, there would be no need for the electric company to offer a rebate as an incentive. Since the rebate from the electric company would be rescinded, there would be no one to determine whether or not the solar device meets the highest standard of efficiency and productivity.

They also pointed out that because the developer won

t know how large the family will be, the bare minimum will be installed to meet the mandate. Supposedly, the rule of thumb is that there should be 20 gallons of hot water per person, per day to meet the needs.

So suppose the assumption is that a family of four will occupy the new residence and an 80-gallon tank is installed. But on moving day one learns that grandpa and grandma will be living with the family.

That means there should be a 120-gallon tank to meet the needs of the six-person household. Since the tank is not large enough, the family will have to fall back on turning on the electrical heater to meet the family’s needs.

There is no doubt that Hawaii needs to seek other sources of energy than fossil fuels and solar thermal devices certainly make sense with all of the sunshine we enjoy; however, mandating the use of such devices without understanding the consequences can mean a waste of resources. Instead of requiring consumers to utilize a specific form of energy saving device, the state should do a better job of educating the consumer.

Like many of the other efforts that the legislature is undertaking to make the state “green,” it is a matter of changing habits and practices rather than trying to “buy” a greener Hawaii.

Until consumers make recycling and using alternate forms of energy a part of their daily lives, no number of mandates, advance disposal fees, or fees on containers will improve the environment of our state.

If consumers find it more convenient to toss their beverage containers in the trash or drive their gas guzzling SUVs, new taxes and additional fees will just punish those who are trying to survive in Hawaii.

Why punish the majority of citizens for the bad habits of a few? Why make snap decisions like this solar thermal mandate without getting the facts and understanding the consequences of this choice?


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