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What Can You Do?

July 30, 2009
Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC

Next to the panels on his roof are the two familiar solar hot water panels, which are a much more common sight on Maui. These give him an annual, 50 percent tax-free return. Using the power of the sun for heating water and making electricity are two separate technologies that make great sense for your pocketbook—and for the environment.

The cost for a typical residential PV system is $20,000 to 30,000; solar hot water systems run between $5,000 to 6,000. There are several support and loan programs that reduce the actual out-of-pocket cost to less to half of that—sometimes even to zero.

For businesses, the situation is ideal. Any business with a flat roof and available funding would be crazy not to install solar. For those businesses that lack the funds, there are options to partner with investors.

In the past, obscure tax laws have made it unnecessarily complicated to get the benefits that lawmakers intended. But this has changed. In Hawai‘i, we now have a law that makes the state tax credit refundable. Now it’s even possible for people who don’t have enough earnings to pay taxes to benefit from the state’s commitment to clean energy.

Federal tax incentives have been changed to grants. While some details are still being worked out, this change will reduce the cost of most solar energy systems by 30 percent. (Please consult your licensed tax consultant to evaluate your situation.)

We may never see a better time to make the switch to solar hot water and solar electricity. The financial crisis has helped reduce panel prices, and contractors have more time for these projects. As soon as the new tax laws become common knowledge, everyone will want a system, and prices will rise again.

Special thanks to Willy Bennett, who taught me a lot of this. He is available for consultations at 283-0404.

Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC, consults with county and state governments in Hawai‘i to secure a quick transition to a clean energy future. He is also the chairman of South Maui Sustainability’s renewable energy committee.

His goal is to end oil use on Maui by 2020. He can be reached through or at 214-7678.



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