The well-known head of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association has been ousted from his position as board member and president of the trade group.

Mark Duda says the vote last week to remove him from the organization’s leadership was because of an internal conflict over the board’s position on state tax incentives for solar projects.

The tax credits, which have helped prop up Hawaii’s burgeoning solar sector, have become a hot topic at the Hawaii Legislature. Some lawmakers want to scale back the tax credits and make it more difficult for homeowners and commercial installers to qualify for them.

Duda has advocated for negotiating with state lawmakers to reduce tax credits in a way that doesn’t cause a major shock to the industry. But he said this position has conflicted with that of some on the board who oppose any reduction in incentives.

“In terms of the point of where I’m differing with these other guys, they are saying don’t give up anything, and I’m saying we ought to give up something,” said Duda.

Other board members interviewed by Civil Beat either wouldn’t say why Duda was voted out or said they didn’t know why.

A new president has not yet been selected.

Duda has been the most public face in Hawaii’s solar sector during the past few years, and has been a major player before the state Public Utilities Commission and Legislature in his role as HSEA president. He’s a principal at the solar company, RevoluSun.

Duda was not the only person on the seven-member board to be voted out by the association’s membership, which totals a few dozen people. Brad Albert, co-owner of Rising Sun Solar on Maui was also voted off the board, as was Steve Allen, who has a 20-year history as a plumbing and solar contractor.

Duda said that their removal was likely for the same reason.

“My sense is that there’s a policy difference between the reconstituted board which is essentially the board before I was president taking back control over the future of the incentives,” he said.

Neither Albert or Allen could be reached for comment.

Yvette Maskrey, a board member and district manager for Honeywell Utility Solutions, said that the vote was highly controversial.

“For me, Mark’s leadership has been great,” she said. “I was in support of him staying.”

She said she didn’t know what the reasons were behind the vote.

Rick Reed, president of the Solaray Corp. in Honolulu, who has worked in the solar industry for more than 30 years, said that he wouldn’t speculate on why Duda was ousted, nor would he say whether or not he had voted for him.

But Reed, a past president of the HSEA, did say that he supported Duda’s leadership.

“My sense when my tenure was over as president of the association was that Duda was the single most competent and qualified person to pick up where I left off,” he said. “When I’ve heard grumbling (from membership) I’ve reminded them that this is a terribly competent person.”

Rep. Pono Chong has been the most prominent advocate in the Legislature for cutting back on state tax credits. He criticized the credits in October in an interview with Civil Beat, saying that the $30 million to $40 million expended annually by the state on the incentives was coming at a time when the government was taking people off of Medicaid and the Department of Education was looking at cutting bus service.

He has called for capping the annual state expenditures on tax credits.

This legislative session, Chong has proposed two bills targeting the solar industry, House Bill 2417 and House Bill 2121. HB 2417 would close what some say is a loophole that allows a single homeowner or business to take advantage of multiple tax credits on a single rooftop array. HB 2121 would prohibit developers who install systems on government buildings from taking the tax credits.

State credits currently include a 35 percent credit for the system’s cost or a $5,000 refund, whichever is less, for residential properties. For commercial properties, the refund can be as high as $500,000.

Duda said that while the industry was doing really well right now, there could be challenges in 2016 when the federal tax incentive for solar scheduled to be reduced from 30 percent to 10 percent. And there also could be a significant spike in photovoltaic system prices if tariffs on Chinese modules are imposed, as has been reported.

He said that there should be some compromise on credits, but that it would be wise to reevaluate what the industry needs in a few years.

Duda said that his ouster came as “a total surprise.”

He said that he would likely revive the Hawaii PV Coalition, another trade group that has been inactive in the past few years as the Hawaii Solar Energy Association took on more of a role.

DISCUSSION: *What do you think of the change in leadership at the Hawaii Solar Energy Association? *

About the Author