2017 has been another landmark year for energy and environmental policy in the Hawaii state legislature. At the end of legislative session, a new set of bills raised the bar even higher for clean and efficient energy in buildings statewide. Also, in June, the state became the first in the union to commit to the Paris Climate Accords after the president announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the agreement.
At the close of Hawaii’s legislative session, the legislature passed a flurry of bills that keep the state on the forefront of green policy. Gov. David Ige signed HB 1578 into law, creating a task force to promote agricultural carbon sequestration and combat climate change. The legislature also passed two more bills that await signatures from the governor: HB 637, requiring building codes to be automatically updated to account for efficiency, and HB 794, establishing a Green Special Fund for the University of Hawaii. The UH Green Fund bill would support energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainability projects to help the university system save money.
It makes sense that the legislature would continue to invest because, in Hawaii, green construction is major business. Research estimates that green development in the state will account for a cumulative $5.13 billion in state GDP from 2015–2018, sustaining over 60,000 jobs. Additionally, in 2015, the state adopted a new policy establishing a 100 percent renewables portfolio standard (RPS), making it the first in the country to do so.
Cooling the schools
Governor Ige’s “Cool the Schools” campaign has also continued Hawaii’s energy efficiency commitment. The governor began his initiative last year after Hawaii experienced an unprecedented heat wave during the El Niño season, with classroom conditions growing dangerously hot. In response, Gov. Ige signed a 2016 bill appropriating $100 million to address the problem. In the year since, the Hawaii Department of Education has installed nearly 500 air conditioners in the state’s public schools—many of them powered by solar—with another 500 on the way. The state also deployed green building strategies in a further effort to lower school temperatures, installing reflective roof coatings, awnings, trees, tinted windows and solar panels.
This year, in order to expand these efforts, State Rep. Chris Lee wrote and promoted HB 957 to allow schools to borrow $46.4 million from the state green infrastructure fund, interest-free. Rep. Lee was awarded “Best of Green Schools: Policymaker” by the Center for Green Schools at USGBC in 2015, and has grown his green schools commitment in the years since. HB 957 passed unanimously through both houses of the legislature and received Gov. Ige’s signature soon after. New investment will include more solar panels and air conditioning units, but will also focus on the instillation of efficient LED lighting systems. According to the Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority, these energy efficiency investments will save its Department of Education $114.9 million over 20 years.
USGBC Hawaii will continue to work with state and local authorities to implement these new policies and programs and to achieve a more efficient and sustainable state.