By Nina Wu
Patagonia, which has two stores on Oahu, is putting money where the sunshine is.
The Ventura, Calif.-based outdoor clothing company is joining forces with local solar finance company, Kina‘ole Capital Partners LLC to create a new $27 million fund to purchase rooftop solar photovolatic systems in Hawaii. Patagonia is offering a $13 million tax equity investment. The fund will be available to all qualified solar installation companies in Hawaii to help purchase more than 1,000 rooftop solar energy systems in Hawaii.
Patagonia's investment comes through its $20 Million & Change fund, which was launched in 2013 to help innovative, like-minded startup companies bring about solutions to the environmental crisis and other positive change through business. As Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard put it: "Working with nature rather than using it up."
"This is smart business for Patagonia and good news for homeowners in Hawaii, who pay way too much for dirty electricity," said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. "I hope other companies see how this strategy can bring strong returns and think seriously about doing the same thing. Business is in a unique position to accelerate the creation of renewable energy infrastructure."
The announcement, made Oct. 15, comes at a time when many solar companies are in a difficult position in Hawaii due to hurdles created by the Hawaiian Electric Co. Approximately 3,500 solar PV customers in highly saturated areas (depending on the circuit they are on) are still waiting to get connected to the grid. Some have waited as long as nine months. HECO says they have to wait due to grid safety and reliability issues.
In addition, HECO recently outlined an action plan in late August — pending Public Utilities Commission approval — to raise the fixed connection fee for all customers on Oahu to a minimum of $55 (instead of $17), and an increase to $71 for new solar PV customers. At the same time, HECO proposes reducing the credit for excess energy produced by solar PV customers to just 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, half of what it currently offers. It is also proposing all new solar PV customers pay an additional, as-of-yet-unknown fee.
The plan has been criticized by the state Department of Economic Development and Tourism as one that embraces an outdated business model while doing more to benefit the utility than the public.
Still, solar is a great investment, and makes sense in a state that gets 271 days of sun annually. Despite the fees proposed by HECO , there will still be a return on your investment (even if it will take longer) — and best of all, it'll be a switch to clean energy, which is part of Hawaii's Clean Energy Initiative.
The solar energy systems purchased by the fund would potentially reduce 153,000 tons of carbon dioxide — or the equivalent of taking 29,000 passenger vehicles off the road. The solar investment also creates hundreds of jobs, including ones for Patagonia's surf ambassador Kohl Christensen and his Oahu-based solar company.
So kudos to Patagonia for leading the way!