Puzzling Trouble For Solar Energy

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - February 21, 2007
| Del.icio.us

Gary Hooser
Gary Hooser

Everyone is for sustainability these days. I mean everyone. The Sierra Club types, of course. Hawaii’s moderate Republican governor, to be sure. Jeeeez! Even the President from Texas oil has been seen trying to spell the word.

Tadao down the street,Vincente around the block, and good buddy Takesano-san over in Kaneohe: every one of them - every single one of them - bought a smaller, more gas-efficient car last year.

So Gary Hooser, Democrat from Kauai, recent 2nd district congressional candidate, Senate Majority leader, and certifiable progressive politician, introduces a bill that would require all homes built after Jan. 1, 2008, to include a solar system.

“A solar water system adds $5,000 to the price of a home,” says Hooser. “That’s $15 per month on a 30-year mortgage. But the homeowner will realize savings of $40 to $80 per month over the life of a system.”

Now the “Mostly Politics” columnist is no mathematician, but I believe that means a solar system would pay for itself in five to 10 years, thus “lowering the cost of a home,” according to Hooser.

A good deal, right? But there are added advantages. “The totality of the public interest is huge,” says Hooser. “The use of renewable solar power cuts down on our contribution to global warming and provides Hawaii with greater energy security.

“And the economic benefits go beyond those of the individual homeowner. Our dependence on oil-generated power sends money off-shore, while the money spent on installing solar systems would remain in Hawaii.”

Hard to argue with that logic. So the bill should fly through the legislature, right? Oh, the Gas Company would oppose it for obvious reasons; and short-sighted developers - ignoring the long-term savings - would complain about that $5,000 added to the price of a house.

But of course the solar industry would be applauding Hooser, giving him awards, looking into the sainthood nomination process. Or so Hooser thought.

“I expected the solar industry to do flips over this legislation,” he says. “But they opposed it as not in their best interest. They make their money going door-to-door selling solar systems after a house is built. If the system comes with the new home, plumbers will be making the money off it.”

So Hooser’s doing what he can - “appeasing” he calls it - to get the bill through, first, by pushing the starting date back to ‘09, then by increasing solar tax credits so owners of older homes will install more systems, and finally by arguing to the solar industry that the more systems in place, the more older systems will break, thus insuring the future of their businesses.

If Hooser doesn’t have enough tough legislative sledding to do, he’s also introduced a bill that would establish civil unions between same-sex couples. That’s an issue, of course, that tied the legislature in knots a decade ago.

So why bring it up now? “Because I was asked to do so,” says Hooser. “And because I feel it’s the right thing to do. During the congressional campaign I repeatedly stated that I supported equal rights for all people, including gays.

“To be sure, I was asked to introduce the bill. It was among the top 10 priorities of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. I could have labeled it ‘by request’and not taken ownership in it. But we should do it, and I’m not concerned that the backlash from religious conservatives will be so great that I will not be re-elected.

“I believe in the separation of church and state. If a couple, straight or gay, wished to sanctify their union through marriage, they should look for a church to do that. But government is in the business of contracts, and contracts between two people in a committed relationship that involve rights, benefits and responsibilities. Everyone should be treated equally under the law regarding those contracts.”

I like this Hooser guy. He’s for energy sustainability and contracts that sustain relationships - both hard to oppose.

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