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Hawai‘i Joins Effort to Set State Appliance Efficiency Standards

May 13, 2019, 8:47 AM HST (Updated May 13, 2019, 8:47 AM)
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In a win for Hawai‘i residents and the climate, state lawmakers passed a bill this session to establish state appliance energy efficiency standards that go beyond federal requirements. This measure, HB 556, introduced by Representative Nicole Lowen, is expected to save Hawai‘i residents and business up to $537 million in cumulative utility bill savings over 15 years.

“On behalf of anyone who pays an electricity bill in Hawai‘i, we’re thrilled that the legislature adopted common sense energy efficiency standards for certain appliances and devices,” said Melissa Miyashiro, chief of staff at Blue Planet Foundation. “The role of energy efficiency is often overlooked, but it’s among the most powerful tools in our climate action toolkit. These appliance standards will decrease energy use, save consumers and businesses money, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.”

Blue Planet Foundation—a Hawai‘i-based nonprofit committed to solving the climate change challenge by clearing the path for 100% clean energy—was the lead advocate for the measure. House Bill 556 establishes energy and water efficiency standards for five products not currently covered at the federal level, including computers and computer monitors, faucets, showerheads, sprinklers, and certain fluorescent lamps. Blue Planet worked closely with legislators and other local and national stakeholders to get the bill across the finish line.

Rep. Nicole E. Lowen. Courtesy photo.

“Appliance efficiency standards are win-win for businesses, households, and the climate,” said Rep. Nicole Lowen, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection and author of the bill. “The importance of efficiency measures is often overlooked, but efficiency should be the first tool we reach for to reduce emissions. Many climate policies come with price tags or have regressive impacts, but this is an example of an effective policy that costs us nothing and has financial benefits for all of Hawai‘i’s residents.”

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Sen. Glenn Wakai—chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development, and Tourism—was also a champion for the bill. “Our insatiable desire for more devices to power our lives comes with financial and environment costs,” said Sen. Wakai. “The solution cannot solely depend on squeezing more energy from renewables. Energy efficiency is the lowest-hanging fruit to reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and electric bills. HB 556 is a creative approach to immediately deliver measurable progress on all three goals.”

Hawai‘i Energy—the state’s energy efficiency program administrator, which empowers island families and businesses to make smarter energy choices to reduce energy consumption, save money, and pursue a 100% clean energy future—was also a key supporter of the bill. “Hawai‘i Energy is excited that this important tool to achieve our state’s clean energy goals and help consumers will become law,” said Karen Shishido, energy project manager at Hawai‘i Energy. “These standards will also protect renters who often have little say in purchasing decisions by their landlords, but who may bear the brunt of higher electric bills with inefficient appliances.”

Many large household appliances—like refrigerators, washers, and dryers—are regulated by federal standards. Action at the state level has historically been a spark for national policy. Most of the products now covered by national standards were first subject to state standards. For example, California, New York, and Florida refrigerator standards in the 1970s and 1980s were the basis of and a catalyst for the 1987 national refrigerator standards.

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“With the highest electricity rates in the country, Hawai‘i residents and businesses deserve a break,” said Marianne DiMascio, state policy manager, Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP). “The energy and water efficiency standards adopted by the legislature will provide that break, saving households with the more efficient products over $200 per year on utility bills.” Based in Washington, D.C., ASAP organizes and leads a broad-based coalition that seeks to build support for new and updated standards at the national and state levels through advocacy, outreach and education. An ASAP study estimates that existing national standards save consumers and businesses about $80 billion on utility bills a year. This number is expected to grow as more states tighten efficiency requirements.

Several states have already adopted appliance efficiency standards, including California (the leader on such standards), Colorado, Vermont, and Washington. Adopting state appliance efficiency standards is also a priority initiative for the U.S. Climate Alliance to accelerate climate action. The U.S. Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of 24 governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Hawai‘i’s Gov. David Ige is a member.

The savings potential stemming from the efficiency standards adopted in HB 556 is substantial: $537 million in cumulative utility bill savings over 15 years for Hawai‘i, not to mention the corresponding kilowatt-hour savings that can help the state meet its energy efficiency portfolio standards, carbon emissions reductions that can help Hawai‘i meet its climate goals under the Paris Agreement (Act 32 of 2017), and its carbon neutrality goal by 2045 (Act 15 of 2018). On an annual basis, the savings equate to $38 million each year by 2025, and doubling to $77 million each year by 2035.

“A common misconception is that efficient appliances cost substantially more than their inefficient counterparts,” added Miyashiro. “In actuality, a number of the products in the new bill have no incremental cost, meaning that they don’t cost more than inefficient models and consumers will start saving right away. For others, utility bill savings pay back the small incremental cost of products meeting the standards within a few months to one year. After that, savings accrue to the consumers over the lifetime of the product.” Blue Planet Foundation created a fact sheet to aid legislators and the public in understanding the nuances of appliance standards.

The appliance standards adopted in HB 556 are largely modeled after California’s already existing and enforced standards, meaning that manufacturers have already adapted to the testing, certification, and labeling requirements for selling energy efficient products in California.

House Bill 556 also includes an important backstop provision to adopt current federal appliance energy efficiency and water conservation standards as Hawai‘i state standards in the event that the federal standards are repealed or withdrawn. “With uncertainty at the national level, this is a real concern for Hawai‘i consumers who pay the highest electricity rates in the nation,” said Miyashiro. “This backstop provision is a safeguard for Hawai‘i consumers and sends a powerful message: If national standards go away, Hawai‘i will step into the breach and continue to use this proven tool to protect consumers and the environment.”

The bill is now on Gov. Ige’s desk for consideration. He has until July 9, 2019 to sign the measure into law.

“Energy efficiency is the cheapest and quickest way to accelerate progress toward Hawai‘i’s 100% renewable energy goal,” added Rep. Lowen. “Setting appliance efficiency standards is the type of smart, implementable policy we need to help lower financial burdens for low and moderate income residents and enable everyone to come along on our path to a clean energy economy.”

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