Tuesday, October 4, 2011


THE AGE OF NEFARIOUS/LET THE SUNSHINE IN: When we wrote about a Kaua`i County Council discussion of a potential recommendation to the state legislature to close the loopholes in the law requiring solar hot water heaters on all new homes- loopholes that are disproportionately used to obtain variances on Kaua`i and Hawai`i Island- we thought there wouldn't be much more to say.

But with the matter appearing for final disposition at tomorrow's council meeting we just had to comment on the "funny if it wasn't so sad" session at last week's committee meeting.

It was another example of what money in politics can do to say the least, with the Gas Company and their campaign cash having apparently swayed the council to repeat the mantra of "options" and "choice" ad nauseum.

Of course with all that dough and the testimony of those who are beholden to the GasCo for their livelihood, it wasn't hard to see why councilmembers were sticking to their mantra, even if it really meant it was "dare to be stupid" time.

We knew it wasn't going to be possible to get to the meat of the matter when, during public testimony, the latest council regular, Lonnie Sykos, dared to be smart in suggesting a reason why there is a 50% variance rate on Kaua`i and the Big Island and only 5% on O`ahu and Maui.

He suggested that perhaps changing the state law might be convoluted and time consuming but finding out why Kaua`i is granting all those variances and perhaps correcting whatever we're doing just might be wise.

But much like those proverbially too busy pulling bodies out of the river to go upstream and finding out who was throwing them in, Council Chair Jay Furfaro, as if to say "stop making sense," interrupted Sykos- as he is wont to do when someone says something he doesn't want said- telling him that he was off the subject on the agenda since the matter was listed as pertaining to asking the state to change the law, not finding out why they didn't really need to change the law

But that only foreshadowed events to come that would show who was really in charge of the show.

It started with Ronald Sakoda who, although he said he was speaking only for Ronald Sakoda, is actually the proprietor of Ron's Electric and Sen. Dan Inouye's representative on Kaua`i.

Saying "excuse me if I cry a little" before plopping his sack of crocodile tears on the table, Sakoda anecdotally bemoaned how young people "making the biggest investment of their lives" couldn’t afford the extra money added to their mortgage when they could be using the money for "a new car (or) food for the baby."

So now the solar hot water heater is going to leave us with starving infants.

Now we know, as talking Barbie used to say, "math is haarrd." When we were young we were thinking of majoring in math and if it weren't for the fact that we stunk at basic arithmetic we might have.

It's not out of the realm of possibility that those on the council might have similar problems so let's try to see about this claim that installing solar water heaters on new homes will lead to famished-keiki syndrome.

A new retrofitted solar hot water system costs $8000 according to the list of building permits in Kaua`i Business Report. There are rebates galore and, according to the state Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) it's also cheaper to install one during construction than to retrofit one.

But let's even use the 8 grand figure.

We took that $8000 and plugged it into a 30 year mortgage since we're supposedly talking not about rich people building million dollar homes, but about a family just starting out that is struggling to make the payments, so is keeping them as low as possible.

When we divide $8000 by 360 months (30 years times 12 months a year) we come up with $22.22 a month. Add another just under three bucks a month for interest (even though the credit union provides interest free loans according to Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura) and you get a final cost of about $25 a month. That's the actual amount one would additionally pay each month for the extra $8000 in cost.

It could be $20 or even lower with the savings cited above but we'll go with $25.

We wanted to know how much gas the average standard water heater uses so we called the Gas Company and asked. We were told that on average people used 3/4 of a gallon of "gas" per day. We were also told that gas- actually propane- costs $6.56 a gallon.

So when you "do the math" that comes out to a whopping $147.60 a month- we know, that seems high to us too- for a plain gas water heater.

Now the standard figure from DBED is that a solar heater on average will provide only about 80% of the hot water needed. So take 20% off the $147.60 and you wind up with a real figure of $118.12.

So the choice is between paying about $25 bucks- and don’t forget that's an inflated figure due to rebates, the savings of not having to retrofit and the interest-free loan- and paying $118.12 a month, giving baby an extra $93.12 to spend on Similac and Gerbers.

Next was a presentation from Richard Degarmel of the Gas Company who presented a totally baffling "Cost Guard study" claiming costs were much lower than a similar DBED study suggested.

The problem was the study compared a solar system supplemented by an electric water heater and one of those "on-demand" systems rather than comparing it with a solar system supplemented by a gas heater.

This wasn't just comparing apples and oranges. It wasn't even comparing oranges and tennis balls. It was more like comparing shoe horns and rocking chairs, being that neither item really mattered to someone looking for the lowest cost to heat their water.

The fact that no one on the council seemed to "get" is that no matter what kind of water heater you're using- electric, standard gas or on-demand gas- you will save money, even month by month, by supplementing it with a solar system.

Whether or not the eyes of councilmembers were clouded by the fact that the recommendation was opposed by the deep pockets at the Chamber of Commerce, the Kaua`i Developers Council, the Contractor’s Association of Kaua`i and 99 others who provided written testimony, is a matter for speculation.

But it does seem odd that the council couldn't do the basic math to determine the savings of a solar hot water installation over not having one, but when counting up the numbers of those who butter their bread, their arithmetic is apparently impeccable.


Correction: The Hawai`i Tribune Herald is not "the only union shop in the islands" as we wrote yesterday. According to Ian Lind:

The Tribune-Herald is the only union newspaper on Hawaii Island, but not the only one in the state. Reporters at the Star-Advertiser and Maui News are also represented by the Pacific Media Workers Guild, which took over from the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, and printers at the S-A are also unionized. I don't know about the Maui News.

We apologize for the error.

1 comment:

manaranger said...

I don't know where those Propane costs came from but our gas bill averages $45-50 per month and we don't have a solar unit augmenting our gas heater. Plus we cook with gas as well. Trying the math again with this number still gives baby $300 of extra Pablum per year.