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HGIA Strengthens Commitment to Low- & Moderate-Income Utility Ratepayers

August 21, 2019, 9:36 AM HST (Updated August 21, 2019, 9:36 AM)
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The Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority (HGIA) has established allocations for different market segments of utility ratepayers.

The HGIA was established to offer financing at below-market interest rates to make green energy installations more accessible and affordable for those who cannot qualify for traditional loans,

The allocations, which go into effect on Sept. 1, 2019, ensures this nontraditional financing program will benefit low- and moderate-income homeowners, renters, nonprofit organizations and small businesses.

With only 23%, or approximately $34 million, of the original loan capital left to lend, coupled with the significant increase in applications—up over 300% since the launch of the GEM$ (Green Energy Money Saver) On-Bill Program in April 2019—HGIA wanted to effectively manage the use of the remaining funds to ensure it achieves a key program objective to democratize clean energy for Hawai‘i’s low- and moderate-income (LMI) families, renters and other hard-to-reach segments,” said Gwen Yamamoto Lau, HGIA executive director. “The HGIA board saw the need to place a stronger emphasis on reaching these families and organizations.”

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The innovative GEM$ On-Bill Program allows eligible utility ratepayers to repay the financing cost for their solar water heaters, rooftop photovoltaic systems and other energy efficiency measures through their Hawaiian Electric Company utility bill. As a non-traditional lender, GEM$ does not rely on credit reports or income verification for applicants to qualify for long-term, low-cost financing. This makes it easier for LMI homeowners, renters, nonprofits and small businesses to qualify.

Affluent households typically have a variety of options to access traditional financing with local banks and credit unions. To enable the program to assist more LMI households that may not have the same options, affluent families will no longer be eligible for financing. HGIA uses the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and Hawaii Housing Finance & Development Corporation’s guidelines, which defines affluent families as those at 140% or more of the area median income.

Until now, HGIA has been processing all eligible applications on a first-come, first-serve basis from a single pool of funds. The pool of funds will now be separated and limited within each segment, as follows:

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Multi-family rental projects: 35%
Nonprofit organizations: 30%
Low and moderate-income single family residential homeowners and renters: 20%
Small businesses (as defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration): 15%
As part of the process to determine the appropriate segments, the public was invited to submit their input.

Wendell Choy, who has led investor groups in providing solar for more than 30 nonprofit organizations over the past 10 years, noted the benefits to nonprofit organizations: “The GEMS loan offers a revolutionary method for nonprofits to lower their electricity costs.”

Ted Peck, president of Holu Hou Energy and former energy administrator of the Energy Division of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, advocated for small businesses. He has been involved with more than 50 solar projects for commercial, industrial, and multifamily projects over the past eight years.

“Large businesses, of course, have no issue getting access to capital. Small businesses, on the other hand, frequently have challenges accessing capital at a reasonable cost. And yet, small businesses are the lifeblood of Hawai‘i’s economy, making up 98 percent of all businesses and employing 57 percent of all employees in Hawai‘i,” Peck said.

Yamamoto Lau said, “We believe the new allocations will give more low and moderate-income families, renters and hard-to-reach organizations such as nonprofits and small businesses, the opportunity to save on their utility bills and to participate in our state’s goal of reducing kilowatt hours and using 100% renewable energy by 2045.”

For more information on the allocation decision-making process, visit the Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority’s website.

About the Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority

In 2008, Hawai‘i was the first in the nation to set an ambitious goal of adopting a 100% renewable energy portfolio by 2045. The Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority was created by the Hawai‘i State Legislature in 2013 to make clean energy investments accessible and affordable to a broader cross-section of Hawai‘i’s utility ratepayers, with a portion of its funds to benefit underserved communities, low- and moderate-income households, renters and nonprofits.

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