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Hawaii State Capitol

2021 Legislative Priorities: A Clean Energy Policy Package to Revitalize Our Collective Future

Posted on February 11, 2021 .

The disruption wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our economy and, in many ways, our way of life. With record numbers of residents out of work and the state’s principal economic driver completely shutting down, this disruption has also magnified underlying problems, such as disproportionate access to resources, our dependency on forces beyond our control, systemic injustice, and human vulnerability. As we are confronted with tough choices about how best to proceed, we have the incredible opportunity to reimagine what is possible for our state and our collective future. How do we truly build an economy around the pillars of resiliency, equitability, and sustainability? How can we align our state fiscal policy with our other vital societal goals? How do we guide our recovery toward growth that is efficient, innovative, and creates meaningful jobs? More broadly, how can Hawai‘i use its position and image to model and leverage change needed globally?

Inspired by these questions, in 2020, Blue Planet Foundation released Waypoints (—a report that outlines 50 actionable policies and programs that can guide Hawai‘i’s recovery through an equity, resilience, and climate lens. The actions in Waypoints aim to foster economic growth, create new jobs, grow state revenue, ensure equitable access and affordability, accelerate our transition to 100% clean energy, and address climate change.

During the 2021 legislative session, Blue Planet is prioritizing a portfolio of policy solutions featured in Waypoints to accelerate our transition to a carbon-free economy. The measures listed below seek to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring that everyone benefits from the transition to a cleaner, more resilient future.

*SIGN UP for Action Alerts to receive updates on the progress of key climate and clean energy bills during this 2021 legislative session. Also, there is a new virtual process for submitting testimony this year — CLICK HERE for all you need to know!*

Action 1: Put a price on carbon with a climate dividend for local residents most in need

[HB 1319SB 311SB 546]
Putting an aggressive price on carbon pollution is a critical policy tool to help Hawai‘i “recover right” from the devastating economic impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Such a policy will drive efficiency and support the climate-friendly businesses of tomorrow while generating needed income for the state. Most importantly, the revenue developed by pricing pollution can provide directed relief to local residents and families hit hardest from the economic downturn and resulting job losses caused by the pandemic. A well-crafted carbon tax can raise between $450 million to $800 million or more annually in new revenue while discouraging carbon pollution.

Action 6: EV rental car fleets and tour buses

[HB 1141SB 768SB 774]
The tourism sector has an opportunity to transform substantially in order to be sustainable, both economically and environmentally. These measures would encourage or require that Hawai‘i rental cars, tour buses, and other visitor industry transportation companies transition their fleets to zero-emission vehicles, with a goal of 100% zero-emission tourism vehicles by 2035. The rental car industry operates the state’s largest vehicle fleets, and the frequent turnover of the vehicles means greater availability of clean vehicles for local residents and businesses to purchase at discounted prices. Further, many visitors have yet to drive or ride in an electric or zero-emission vehicle—Hawai‘i should be the place where they have that initial experience.

Action 14: Provide affordable access to clean energy for low- and moderate-income residents

[HB 558SB 932]
The Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) loan program was developed to fill underserved gaps in accessing clean energy and lower the cost of clean energy financing. After a rocky start, the GEMS program has been successful in this mission, with nearly 80% of residential funds committed to date being deployed as low-interest loans for low-income and moderate-income energy customers. These bills would allow the Hawai‘i Green Infrastructure Authority that administers the GEMS program to leverage additional funds through private sources and federal grant programs, as well as enable financing options for the electrification of vehicle fleets.

Action 18: Hawai‘i-specific energy cost labeling for household appliances

[HB 555SB 603]
Hawai‘i businesses and residents pay the highest electricity rates in the nation, which intensifies our already high cost of living and increases monthly financial burdens.  These measures require retailers of certain household appliances to display available energy efficiency rebates and state-specific energy operation costs on the showroom floor. By displaying information about rebates available and Hawai‘i-specific operating costs, consumers are better equipped to choose the model that most makes sense for their economic situation and preferences. The federally issued, bright yellow EnergyGuide labels that accompany most large appliances are misleading for Hawai‘i consumers given that they feature cost estimates based on national averages—in Hawai‘i, our electricity rates are nearly triple the national average.

Action 19: Establish a “feebate” program to fund Hawai‘i’s transition to an equitable clean transportation future through a fee on luxury gas cars

[HB 1142SB 1309]
While Hawai‘i has been making strides on renewable electricity, we are falling short on decarbonizing our ground transportation sector. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have been climbing steadily for years prior to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, more gasoline was sold in the islands than in 2018.  Although we now have over 13,000 EVs on Hawai‘i’s roads, they still only make up about 1% of all registered vehicles in the state.  And even as the number of EVs in the state increases, adequate vehicle charging infrastructure remains a concern. These measures establish a revenue-neutral feebate through a tax on the sale of luxury gasoline vehicles to provide funding for Hawai‘i’s existing EV charging system rebate program. A feebate is revenue-neutral, meaning that it will require no additional money from the general fund in the state budget.

Action 22: Require that all new parking stalls be wired for EV chargers

[HB 1140SB 773]
As many as 80% of EV drivers charge their cars at home or work.  Residents in multi-unit dwellings or condos, however, are often unable to find a place to charge, preventing them from receiving the benefits of EVs. Many Hawai‘i residents live in multi-family housing, in part because single-family homes are financially out of reach. Policies to expand access to charging options can help remedy this inequity. Studies have shown that installing EV infrastructure at the time of construction can be 91% less expensive than post-construction retrofits. These bills would “future proof” new construction projects by requiring that 100% of newly constructed parking stalls be wired for EV chargers. To reduce upfront construction and utility costs, developers could use energy management systems that allow multiple vehicles to share a circuit, which Vancouver, BC, has done with its 100% “EV Ready” law.

Action 27: Boost the effectiveness of existing EV charger requirements for large parking lots

[HB 803SB 756]
Since 2012, Hawai‘i law has required that public parking lots with 100 or more stalls have a least one EV charging station. An earlier version of the law, enacted in 2009, called for parking lots to have an EV charging port per every 100 stalls, but the requirement was softened to its existing threshold in 2012. Although several retailers have stepped up to offer EV charging equipment to their customers, many other properties have not complied or have not maintained their charging equipment. The existing law lacks an enforcement provision to ensure that businesses comply with the requirement. These bills would enhance the effectiveness of the current EV charger law by clarifying that the counties in Hawai‘i have the authority to enforce the requirements and that the chargers be in working order.

Action 41: Require that new single-family homes come equipped with rooftop solar

[HB 860]
Residential rooftop solar is a proven tool to help homeowners and renters save money. Over 85,000 homes in Hawai‘i have already been retrofitted with rooftop solar at significant savings to their homeowners. Solar is even more cost-effective when installed during the home’s construction phase (instead of retrofitting later), and production developers can take advantage of economies of scale in purchasing and installing solar across numerous homes simultaneously. What’s more, homeowners can include the cost of the solar installation in their home mortgage. Maximizing solar on rooftops also reduces our need to develop other lands for renewable energy projects. This bill would require that solar photovoltaic be a standard feature on new homes. California—the world’s fifth-largest economy—adopted a similar requirement for solar on all new dwellings, which took effect January 2020.

Action 46: Streamline the process for timely adoption of building energy codes

[HB 556]
Most individuals spend a majority of their lives inside buildings. Yet, facilities are often overlooked as essential levers that directly and indirectly impact our well-being and quality of life. By establishing and regularly updating uniform state and county building codes, Hawai‘i can ensure that building design, construction, and operation address society’s most important concerns, including public health and safety, environmental protection, and consumer protection against costly monthly utility bills. This measure improves the process and timeliness for updating energy conservation building codes in Hawai‘i and ensures that energy efficiency and green building design, which can lower monthly financial burdens for residents and businesses while also reducing their carbon footprint, are not dismissed or disregarded in the process.

Action 50: Establish a standard requiring that 100% of gas sold by gas utility companies in the state be renewable or clean hydrogen

[HB 1143SB 530]
As Hawai‘i recovers from the pandemic and construction begins on new homes, buildings, and infrastructure, all of the blueprints should reflect the same goal: having the ability to fully participate in our 100% carbon-free future. Existing natural gas should be transitioned to 100% renewable gas or renewably produced hydrogen gas. Although renewable gas can be made from wastewater treatment, landfills, or through local crops, the feedstock availability is limited. Renewably produced hydrogen, however, presents a perfect opportunity as a sustainable fuel—one with tremendous growth potential. Hydrogen—the most common element in the universe—could play a key role in our clean energy future, particularly in the transportation sector. These bills update Hawai‘i’s renewable energy law and require that gas utility companies in Hawai‘i achieve the same 100% renewable energy targets as Hawai‘i’s electric utilities.

Phase out fossil fuel vehicles

[HB 393SB 500]
If we are serious about achieving our clean transportation and carbon goals, we need to set clear policies on what types of vehicles are allowable in Hawai‘i. Fossil fuel-powered internal combustion engines are simply incompatible with a stable climate. We need to provide customers, auto dealers, and planners direction on what is coming so that they can plan for a smooth and equitable transition to clean transportation. We are continuing our push for Hawai‘i to set a goal for 100% renewable ground transportation and to require that all new cars sold by at least 2035 be zero-emission vehicles like battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.