UPDATED: 4/29/14 8:45 a.m.

A bill that would have made it easier for residents of high-rise apartment buildings and renters to switch to solar was killed in conference committee on Friday.

Senate Bill 2934 was a priority piece of legislation for clean-energy advocates. The measure would have allowed residents without roof space or those living in areas where Hawaiian Electric Co.’s electric grid can’t accommodate any more solar to still take advantage of solar energy.

Instead of drawing solar from panels on their rooftop, residents could join others in buying or leasing panels installed at another location, such as on a warehouse or community center.

The bill was designed to make solar, which has become cheaper than oil-generated electricity, available to a broader segment of the population.

However, Bill 2934 was lost in the shuffle on Friday as lawmakers scrambled to meet a 6 p.m. deadline to give final consideration to bills this session. Legislators closely involved with energy measures don’t agree on exactly what happened.

Sen. Mike Gabbard, chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, told Civil Beat that the bill died because chairs of the House and Senate money committees didn’t sign off on it.

“This was a good bill and I was very disappointed on it not making it past the finish line,” Gabbard said by email. “The bottom line is that we needed to get the money committees to release it, but that didn’t happen.”

Rep. Chris Lee, chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, said that was his understanding too.

“Long story short, in the back and forth of the craziness of the last day, we never had sign off of the money committees, even though (the bill) had gone through half a dozen different drafts trying to get agreement from the chairs,” he said.


UPDATE: Lee said that a version of the bill was submitted to the money committees within an hour of the 6 p.m. deadline, but that the measure may have gotten lost in the last minute rush.

However, Sen. David Ige, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee says that’s not what happened. He says the bill never made it to his committee because the conference chairs never reached final agreement on the language of the bill.

“They never came to agreement in conference,” he said, adding that he fully supported the bill from the beginning.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee, didn’t return a call for comment.

The program, commonly known as “community-based solar” has been adopted in at least 10 other states, according to Blue Planet Foundation, a clean-energy advocacy organization and strong backer of the bill.

While both Gabbard and Lee pledged to resurrect the bill next session, a federal tax credit that can reduce solar by about one-third is set to expire in 2016, creating a sense of urgency to get the program up and running.

“We are very, very disappointed to see this die,” said Richard Wallsgrove, program director for Blue Planet Foundation, a Honolulu clean energy advocacy organization. “Residents, businesses and the utility were going to benefit. It was a triple win.”

The bill attracted broad support as it made its way through the Legislature this session. Wallsgrove said that Blue Planet might find another way to implement the program without having to go through the Legislature.

A number of other measures, including key education reform legislation, also died last week when legislative leaders didn’t finish work on the bills in time. On Monday, lawmakers announced they would re-open conference for three education bills and a bill on tax credits for local products.

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