The Legislature has berated the University of Hawaii for lacking a plan to implement cost-saving measures. Now that UH has a long-term strategic plan for capital improvement projects — will the Legislature step up to the plate?

Time and time again key legislators take UH to task for the way it manages itself. Although the Legislature is a minority investor in higher education, providing for only 25 percent of UH’s 2013 sources of funds, the Legislature seems to exert 75 percent of the micromanagement. The Legislature begrudges its over-involvement with the UH system; however, it continues to meddle with bills and budgets to perpetuate that effect. (Compare that against the 28 percent of UH’s funds coming from student tuition and the relatively limited influence students have at UH.)

Manoa Rep. Isaac Choy, chair of the Higher Education Committee, has repeatedly called out UH: Show me a plan!

Rep. Isaac Choy

State Rep. Isaac Choy, left, listens to testimony during a University of Hawaii budget briefing in December.

In his December 2013 legislative newsletter, “Prevailaing Winds,” Choy wrote: “Is there no strategic plan for the University of Hawaii? … The management of the University needs to make up its mind now, are they going to be agent for change or protector of the status quo? Are they going to come up with solutions or continue to be the problem?”

In his spring 2014 newsletter, Choy specifically addressed UH’s repair and maintenance backlog — threatening to fiscally “micromanage” it if he does not see UH “solving their own problems.” 

Message received.

It is time for the Legislature to follow Isaac Choy’s advice and give UH a motherly hug — no more chokeholds or headlocks.

At its October 2014 meeting, the Board of Regents approved the UH system’s first-ever six-year Capital Improvement Projects Plan. Regents voted for the plan, stating that it is “more fiscally responsible,” and that the “University is acting more prudently to yield a higher return on the request.”   

UH approved this strategic plan just in time for the 2015 legislative session. So now that Choy got what he wanted, he could, in his own words: “defer to the expertise of the responsible department or agency and give them whatever support I could along with a motherly hug.”

Buildings, repairs, maintenance and energy-saving infrastructure seem like a nice place to begin demonstrating that maternal support.

There is a very creative and timely bill that presents the perfect opportunity for a Choy hug-fest — HB 1509, UH Net-Zero Initiative. The original version of HB1509 seems to have all the elements Choy has been looking for: innovation, problem-solving, measurable savings, compounding gains by restricting reinvestment into additional cost-saving projects, and it funds student scholarships and it helps saves the planet! 

If HB 1509 is properly worded, it could be a win-win for everyone; well, everyone except HECO.

Students at UH Manoa campus February 2, 2014.

Students at the UH Manoa campus.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The current energy expense for UH Manoa is almost $35 million per year, according to the bill. This expense is covered by the student tuition revenue; in 2014 that amounted to $141 million. That means 25 cents of every student tuition dollar goes to purchase imported fossil fuels. Students should have the most input on a bill like HB 1509. 

Last year, UH students, student groups and the Statewide Student Sustainability Coalition of Hawaii led the successful effort to have the Board of Regents adopt comprehensive sustainability amendments to its policies on planning. From that point on, UH had an express commitment to “developing mechanisms to track and re-invest savings from sustainability initiatives that further increase efficiencies, reduce waste, and improve sustainability[.]”

HB 1509 would support UH in meeting its own mandate. The bill would jump-start Hawaii’s first green revolving fund, an internal investment vehicle that provides a source of financing for implementing energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other sustainability projects that produce cost-savings, which are measured and reinvested into a next round of green investments.

There seems to be an auspicious alignment happening for UH. The Board of Regents has never had a chair who has as much experience with facilities management as Randy Moore. He spent six years with the Department of Education managing more than 250 school sites statewide.

In 2008, Moore rolled out an “Electricity-Savings Incentive Program” for the DOE that rewarded principals and School Community Councils with 50 percent of the savings from lowering electrical usage at their schools. Unfortunately, when Randy Moore retired from the DOE in 2012, the DOE retired his Electricity-Savings Incentive Program.

The green revolving fund in HB 1509 would ensure that these energy-efficient innovations and cost-savings incentives would continue to fund additional sustainability programs at UH beyond Randy Moore’s retirement from the Board of Regents. 

This is an optimal time to ignite this new model of facilities financing and management. UH has new sustainability in planning policies. It has an unprecedented six-year strategic plan with an energy efficiency component that could compound cost-savings all the way to net-zero fossil fuel reliance. And student stakeholders are leading the way to a more sustainable UH system.

It is time for the Legislature to follow Isaac Choy’s advice and give UH a motherly hug — no more chokeholds or headlocks.

End note:  The third annual Hawaii Sustainability in Higher Education Summit will be hosted at UH Manoa on Feb. 26-28. Mark Orlowski and Mark Jewel will speak about green revolving funds and energy efficiency funding.

About the Author

  • Kim Coco Iwamoto

    Kim Coco Iwamoto was elected to the Hawaii Board of Education in 2006 and served until 2011. She also served on the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board from 2009 to 2011 and the Career & Technical Education Coordinating Advisory Council from 2007 to 2011. She was appointed to a four-year term on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission in 2012.