Blue Planet Foundation says it is urging Gov. Neil Abercrombie to not veto House Bill 1520, legislation supporters say will help residents purchase solar or energy-efficient appliances.

HB 1520 directs the Public Utilities Commission to investigate an “on-bill financing program” for residential electric customers to help pay for energy efficient or renewable-energy devices and systems through their regular utility bills.

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the renewable energy advocacy group, told Civil Beat that supporters of HB 1520 expected to meet with the governor as early as Wednesday.

“I think that the governor shares our frustration that the measure doesn’t directly implement on-bill financing,” said Mikulina. “But we suport the measure because it is a step toward implementation.”

Veto News a Shock

HB 1520 was one of the most significant clean energy measures at the 2011 Hawaii Legislature.

Indeed, it was introduced by Hermina Morita, who at the time was chairwoman of House Energy and Environmental Protection. Morita was later appointed to chair the PUC by the governor, who has made clean energy a priority of his “New Day” plans.

Mikulina, who lobbied heavily for the measure, said supporters were “shocked” that HB 1520 was one of 23 bills Abercrombie announced Monday that he is considering vetoing.

“This is a critical clean-energy measure,” he said.

HB 1520 was one of only two measures the governor did not offer an explanation for possible veto.

Ironically, Abercrombie spoke at a energy conservation rally held Wednesday at the Capitol Rotunda, where Mikulina was in attendance and Sierra Club Hawaii members handed out stickers reading, “I Support HB 1520. Advancing Hawaii’s Clean Energy Future.”

The governor made no mention of HB 1520 in his brief remarks.

In an opinion piece that was published by Civil Beat in April, Mikulina said HB 1520 had “broad support across our state, from the Governor to the solar industry to residents who want to do their part to help Hawaii get off oil. On-bill financing was, in fact, part of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative agreement signed by the State and Hawaiian Electric in 2008.”

Testimony in support of the measure came from the state’s Consumer Advocate.

But the PUC, which had offered no opposition to the bill under then Chair Carlito Caliboso, later objected under new Chair Morita. That’s because the bill was far different than the one she wrote.

“The Commission opposes the proposed SD1, as Commission has concerns with this draft, which the Committee should be aware of before proceeding any further with this proposal, primarily with the administrative costs that would be involved in on-bill financing for various types of energy saving appliances and technologies,” Morita wrote in testimony submitted March 22.

Morita added that the commission would prefer a cost-benefit analysis be performed to determine whether on-bill financing was in the public interest.

‘Unanswered Questions’

A key lawmaker, rep. Denny Coffman — Morita’s replacement on House Energy — was uncomfortable with the bill. On April 27, the week before the session ended, Civil Beat reported the bill would be held in conference committee because Coffman had “unanswered questions.”

The very next day, succumbing to pressure, Coffman changed his mind and allowed the bill to be heard.

By then, language in HB 1520 had been changed to merely allow the PUC “to investigate” on-bill financing. Only one lawmaker voted against the bill on third and final reading.

Since that time, Mikulina noted that similar legislation was passed in New York state — the Power NY Act, which was hailed in the Empire State as landmark legislation.

“It will create 10,000 jobs and bring clean energy to over a million residents,” Mikulina said of the New York law. “I just hope (Abercrombie) takes this opportunity to nudge the PUC into implementing this.”

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