- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

HONOLULU (AP) - A third of Hawaii’s $150 million green energy loan program may go toward lowering electrical bills at the state’s public schools.

A bill, which was passed unanimously last month and is awaiting Gov. David Ige’s signature, would provide the state Department of Education an interest-free $46.4 million loan to improve energy efficiency at schools.

State regulators in February approved the Department of Education’s use of the money to replace fluorescent bulbs with LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, and install other energy conservation measures to help cool classrooms at 242 of the state’s 256 public schools.

Green Energy Market Securitization, or GEMS, raised roughly $150 million through a bond sale. The program has used less than 2 percent of the funds.

When drafting the bill, legislators ordered the funds be “issued free of interest charges,” which observers say could be a problem because of the interest the loan program is obligated to repay.

Ratepayers would shoulder the $8.9 million in interest payments since the DOE wouldn’t be paying any interest.

GEMS has to pay 2.99 percent interest on the $150 million in bonds, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported (https://bit.ly/2td2YnY ).

Gwen Yamamoto Lau, executive director of the GEMS program, said the proposal should save the Department of Education approximately $114.9 million over 20 years, a savings that would also be shared by taxpayers.

“Providing any state or government agency a vehicle to lower its ongoing operating costs, (such as) lowering its utility costs, also benefits its taxpayers, most of whom are also ratepayers,” she said.

The Department of Education plans to spread its repayment of the loan over 20 years, using savings from energy efficiency projects, Department of Education Chief Financial Officer Amy Kunz said last month at the Board of Education Finance and Infrastructure Committee meeting.

Ige hasn’t said whether he will sign the bill. His office is reviewing the policy and legal implications of the bill, said Jodi Leong, Ige’s press secretary.

The governor has until July 11 to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature. If it becomes law, the Department of Education will receive the funds in July.

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