The Solar Hot Water Heater Bill: A Case Study

When a good bill dies because of a misunderstanding

A well-intentioned bill can die for many reasons. In the case of HB 2109 HD1, the solar hot water heater bill, the alarm was raised on social media,--as a result of the gas industry spreading a false interpretation of bill language--calling out an amendment (HD1) to the original bill. The request was clear: "testify against the well-intentioned amendment ASAP". Again, this was in response to a claim (that many off-the-grid new homes would not be permitted to install tankless on-demand water heaters) made from the said amendment. Whether or not this claim, and the subsequent outcry of many would-be affected from the public, was indeed with merit, the flooding of opposition to the bill in general resulted in its becoming "controversial" and further, in its subsequent death.

FACT: we can oppose amendments without a killing a good bill! (As evidenced by what happened in the very same hearing to HB 2723 HD1, which, at decision making, was amended to be a stronger version of itself--now HB 2723 HD2--at the demand of multiple testifiers).

HB 2109 HD1 was deferred in the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, a disappointment for many in the fight for renewable energy sources that align with Hawaiʻi's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goals of 100% clean energy by 2045.

Remember, as a bill makes its way through both chambers, months before it has a chance to even become a law, there are opportunities to modify and clarify language (i.e., make amendments), such that problems (e.g., the ones raised by the public) may be addressed. In the case of HB 2109 HD1, the opposition to a well-intentioned bill, instead of the amendments attached to it, resulted in a yet another win by Hawaiʻi Gas and the gas utility, keeping Hawaiʻi unnecessarily dependent on Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) when we should be moving off fossilized/fracked gas and on to renewables.

FACT: Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) is often not derived from clean sources (e.g., when it is fracked). We should not be using LNG as a "bridge fuel" on our path to 100%. Read more about why here and here.


More on the conversation surrounding HB 2109 HD1 below:

Let's be clear: those of us in that fight for clean energy do indeed want clean energy for all. Marti Townsend, Director of the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi rightly stated:

"We completely agree! It has to be clean energy for all, or it is simply not enough. This bill [HB 2109] closes the loophole abused by wealthy developers while still allowing individual homeowners to get an exemption based on cost. We are with you on helping the poor and supporting clean energy. This bill accomplishes that without giving the wealthy developers an out for keeping us hooked on fossilized gas."

William Giese, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Solar Energy Association, wrote:

"As its written now (HD1), this measure doesn't prevent anyone from installing an on-demand (instant) gas heater on a new single-family home. If the architect or engineer who signs the variance request can prove that a solar hot water heater is cost-prohibitive over a life cycle analysis, and the energy coordinator agrees, then the variance would be granted and the developer is allowed to install whatever water heater they feel would be most appropriate for the situation.

For instance, if a new single family vacation home in Puna or Hilo that (1) sits in the shadow of Mauna Kea and (2) is only lived-in part of the year requests a variance, the life cycle cost analysis submitted with that variance would prove that a solar hot water heater is not an appropriate heater type and the variance would be approved. The developer would be free to install an instant gas heater, which would be warranted in this very specific case.

However, if a single family home that is lived-in year round on the Ewa Plain, where there is abundant solar irradiance, is submitting a variance request then the burden would be on the architect to prove that a solar hot water heater would not be as cost effective over the life of that system. This would be impossible to prove, as the amount of gas therms used over the life of the system combined with high sun hours in that part of Hawaiʻi would make a solar hot water heater more cost effective.

Lastly, many instant gas heaters installed today require an electrical grid connection to function, as the more inexpensive models do not have "always on" pilot lights. Many of the off-grid consumers that our member companies serve today opt to install solar hot water heater systems in connection with their grid back up through PV or with DC pump systems run off of separate PV panels.

As a side note, many of our member company distributors and installers install both solar hot water and instant gas. The intent of this bill is not to remove instant gas in new home construction entirely, but rather to empower the energy coordinator to exercise discretion while administering these variances, and prevent rubber stamping of gas variances not inline with state Renewable Portfolio Standard goals."