Tuesday, February 9, 2010


THE BITE IN THE BARK: About 10-plus years ago when the various electric companies started a state-backed program offering low or even zero-percent interst loans to install solar hot water heaters we started asking around at every opportunity with state legislators what the possibility was of doing the same for the then-nescient photovoltaic systems.

Just like the hot water systems the loans would be designed to pay for themselves in electricity savings over the life of the systems and eventually produce “free” power.

Every year it was a no-go mostly we found, after a few years of persistence, due to the seemingly counterintuitive opposition of the solar installation companies that reasoned that the small number of existing companies already had cornered the market and that an influx of state money would spur endless new competition.

This past fall though we heard the scuttlebutt that a plan for a $50 million program would be introduced in this year’s legislature.

So the article in today’s local newspaper noting the program came as little surprise.

But not so those almost absurdly devilish details.

Rather than channel the loans through the various eclectic companies- KIUC here and HELCO in the other counties- like the proven solar hot water heater program, the scheme will try to force the counties to insure the state will get their money back by tacking the repayment onto participants’ property tax bills.

Though the bill- the one that survives at this point- doesn’t say so in so many words it’s obvious who will get stuck holding the bag should repayment not be forthcoming- the counties, who are solely given the right to tax property in Hawai`i.

We presume the state is selling this as a way to insure that the loans are more likely to get repaid since people are subject to losing their property if they don’t pay their property tax and individuals would have to be taken to court to collect loans. But of course the state, through the electric companies- could also loan to individual homeowners with a provision that the property serve as collateral and a lien could then be placed with non-payment.

What the counties are being asked to do though is take on the responsibility for repayment when and if an owner who has taken out one of these loans falls into arrears on their property tax, even if it’s for unrelated reasons.

The state is assuming that the counties are a collectively a bunch of idiots here, especially when being asked to do a favor for a legislature that is threatening to take way 10% of their budgets with proposed stealing of the counties’ share of the transient accommodations tax (TAT). which is supposed to pay for the impact of tourism on our state-mandated and county-paid infrastructure including police, fire and many other services.

While the program- which will include other alternative non-fossil fueled energy systems like wind as well as energy efficient home improvements- is a long ignored no-brainer whose time came years ago, the way the state is going about it is a dishonest attempt to screw whomever they can for their shortsightedness over the years now that the sh-t has hit the fan.

We’ll see how stupid and subservient our county leaders are here. Will county governments be the ones left holding the bag when defaults comes? Or will they be able to leverage not only a guarantee from the state that they won’t be responsible should the owner fail to pay but maybe in addition that the state will guarantee our share of the TAT for the foreseeable future?

Can anyone here play this game? We’ll soon find out. The bill’s status is that it was up for decision-making in committee this morning but further action will depend on whether the game the county plays is hardball.

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