Solar Water Heater Variance
Anyone considering an application for a variance from the residential solar water heater law should be aware that 5 requirements in the State law (Hawaii Revised Statutes §196-6.5) and the judge’s final judgment* must be met if a gas-tankless instantaneous water heater is the selected alternative.
According to the State law, a gas-tankless instantaneous water heater will be accepted as justification for a solar water heater variance if all three requirements are met:
- Approved (certified) by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL);
- At least one additional gas appliance must be installed in the dwelling;
- The gas water heater must provide hot water only as it is needed.
There are two additional requirements as part of the final judgment*:
- The burden of proof will lie with the applicant to demonstrate that a solar water heater system, regardless of location or circumstance, is not cost effective in the context of a 30-year mortgage term.
- The applicant must be the party who will ultimately pay for the energy cost consumption.
* The final judgment from Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree in Hawaii Solar Energy Association and Sierra Club v. DBEDT, Civil No. 18-1-1398-09 (JPC), April 29, 2019, states, in part: “Specific direction as to how DBEDT should exercise its discretion when reviewing gas variance applications is available from the statute’s legislative history. The court directs DBEDT to the statements and findings above, as well as the following statements made by the legislature when amending the statute in 2009:
- “It is the intent of the legislature that the variances provided for in Act 204, Session Laws of Hawaii 2008 (Act 204) will be rarely, if ever, exercised or granted because the burden of proof will lie with the applicant to demonstrate that a solar water heater system, regardless of location or circumstance, is not cost effective in the context of a 30-year mortgage term.
- “The legislature intended for a consumer to have the option to use gas appliances with the full knowledge that such a system may be more costly and less efficient. To obviate any attempt to circumvent Act 204, then, the legislature intends that if the potential variance applicant is not the party who will ultimately pay for the energy cost consumption, then only paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of subsection (a) in section 196-6.5 Hawaii Revised Statutes, should apply.”**
** This paragraph refers to the actual language in the State solar water heater mandate law, Hawaii Revised Statutes §196-6.5, which states:
§196-6.5 Solar water heater system required for new single-family residential construction.
(a) On or after January 1, 2010, no building permit shall be issued for a new single-family dwelling that does not include a solar water heater system that meets the standards established pursuant to section 269-44, unless the coordinator approves a variance. A variance application shall only be accepted if submitted by an architect or mechanical engineer licensed under chapter 464, who attests that:
(1) Installation is impracticable due to poor solar resource;
(2) Installation is cost-prohibitive based upon a life cycle cost-benefit analysis that incorporates the average residential utility bill and the cost of the new solar water heater system with a life cycle that does not exceed fifteen years;
(3) A renewable energy technology system, as defined in section 235-12.5, is substituted for use as the primary energy source for heating water; or
(4) A demand water heater device approved by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., is installed; provided that at least one other gas appliance is installed in the dwelling. For the purposes of this paragraph, “demand water heater” means a gas-tankless instantaneous water heater that provides hot water only as it is needed.
(b) A request for a variance shall be submitted to the coordinator on an application prescribed by the coordinator and shall include a description of the location of the property and justification for the approval of a variance using the criteria established in subsection (a). A variance shall be deemed approved if not denied within thirty working days after receipt of the variance application. The coordinator shall publicize:
(1) All applications for a variance within seven days after receipt of the variance application; and
(2) The disposition of all applications for a variance within seven days of the determination of the variance application.
(c) The director of business, economic development, and tourism may adopt rules pursuant to chapter 91 to impose and collect fees to cover the costs of administering variances under this section. The fees, if any, shall be deposited into the energy security special fund established under section 201-12.8.
(d) Nothing in this section shall preclude any county from establishing procedures and standards required to implement this section.
(e) Nothing in this section shall preclude participation in any utility demand-side management program or public benefits fee program under part VII of chapter 269. [L 2008, c 204, §2; am L 2009, c 155, §14; am L 2010, c 175, §1]
For questions contact DBEDT.SWH-Variance@hawaii.gov.
Effective April 29, 2019
New Solar Water Heater Variance Procedures and Online Application
All new single-family dwellings built in the State of Hawaii are required to have a solar water heater (Hawaii Revised Statutes §196-6.5). If a solar water heater will not be installed, a “variance” (exemption) from this state law must be requested and approved for building plans to be accepted. “Single-family dwelling” includes Accessory Dwelling Units and similar single-family dwellings.
Online Application for Submitting Solar Water Heater Variances is Now Active
This online application will help expedite the submittal of requests for variance from the Solar Water Heater mandate.
Architects and Mechanical Engineers:
Please use this online application to submit solar water heater variance requests. Pursuant to HRS §196-6.5, only architects and mechanical engineers licensed to do business in the State of Hawaii may submit a request for a solar water heater variance.
Required Processing Fee of $25 for Every Variance Request
Each request for a solar water heater variance submitted through the online application requires a $25 payment by credit card or eCheck.
Be sure to complete the online application correctly. Any incorrect or missing information will cause the request to be DENIED.
There are no refunds for denied requests.
Submitting Requests Using Offline Application
The online application allows for easier fee payment and tracking of your variance request. However, if you prefer to submit a variance request using the manual process, see the section below for instructions and links for submitting a request via e-mail, fax, U.S. mail, or hand-delivery.
Offline Request Payment Information
Requests submitted via e-mail, fax, U.S. Postal Service, and hand-delivery also require a $25 per request processing fee. For these offline requests, a check in the amount of $25 per request payable to “State of Hawaii-DBEDT” must accompany the variance request or be mailed to:
DBEDT Hawaii State Energy Office
P.O. Box 2359
Honolulu, HI 96804-2359
A check can also be hand-delivered to the Hawaii State Energy Office at 235 South Beretania Street, Room 506, Honolulu, HI 96813.
One check can cover multiple solar water heater variance requests if they are all submitted at the same time.
Write the Tax Map Key (TMK) number at the bottom of the check.
Note: If a check is not received within 10 business days of the receipt of the variance request or if the check does not clear within 29 business days of receipt of the variance request, the request shall be DENIED.
Be sure to follow directions and complete the variance request correctly. Incorrect or missing information will cause the request to be DENIED.
There are no refunds for denied requests.
Offline Request Form for a Solar Water Heater Variance
The variance request form has been revised to reflect the new gas demand tankless water heater requirements.
All solar water heater variance requests must use the latest form below. The use of older forms will cause the request to be denied.
Click on the link below for a Microsoft Word version of the Request for Variance form. Use this form if submitting a variance via e-mail, fax, U.S. mail, or hand-delivery. All requests received on or after September 4, 2018, must use this form. Use of older forms will not be accepted and will cause the request to be denied. There are no refunds for denied requests.
Follow the instructions on the form. Incorrect or incomplete forms shall cause the variance request to be denied.
Offline Variance submittal information:
- E-mail: email@example.com
- Fax: 808-586-2536
- U.S. Postal Service: DBEDT Hawaii State Energy Office, SWH Variance, P.O. Box 2359, Honolulu, HI 96804-2359
- Hand-delivery: DBEDT Hawaii State Energy Office, 235 South Beretania Street, 5th Floor, Room 506, Honolulu, HI 96813. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed on state and federal holidays.
Life Cycle Cost Comparison (LCCC) worksheet must be submitted with a variance request if selecting Option #1 (installation of a solar water heater is impracticable or cost prohibitive) or Option #3 (gas-tankless instantaneous water heater). Instructions to complete the LCCC and an explanation of the LCCC can be found in the links below. Solar water heater variance requests and LCCC worksheets must be signed and stamped by a Hawaii licensed architect or mechanical engineer and sent using the submittal information listed above. If submitting by email, please note “SWH Variance” in subject box.
The Microsoft “Excel” spreadsheet used to calculate life cycle costs for solar and other methods of water heating contains formulae which cannot calculate unless you use the Excel software. The “Explanation of Life Cycle Cost Comparison” (PDF) provides information about the formulae and lists the calculations for people completing the spreadsheet form manually. If completing the form manually, all source data must be identified if deviating from the source data in the excel sheet.
The chart below summarizes all the requests for a variance from the solar water heater mandate processed by the DBEDT Hawaii State Energy Office. It is updated regularly as requests are received and as variances are approved, denied, or not accepted.
All NEW single-family dwellings built in the State of Hawaii are required to have a solar water heater (HRS §196-6.5). A request for a variance from this state law can be submitted to the DBEDT Hawaii State Energy Office if it meets the criteria for a variance as attested (and submitted) by an architect or mechanical engineer licensed to do business in the State of Hawaii. As stated in Act 204 (June 26, 2008), the legislation creating HRS §196-6.5, “the purpose of this Act is to increase the use of renewable energy to protect our environment, reduce pollution, make housing more affordable, and enhance Hawaii’s local economy.” HRS §196-6.5 also allows for the creation of administrative rules and the assessment of fees.
Hawaii Administrative Rules, Title 15, Chapter 37, “Solar Water Heater Variance,” was adopted on August 27, 2018. The purpose of this administrative rule is to provide an online application to automate solar water heater variance requests. A response to the variance request will be automatically e-mailed to the submitter when a decision is made. This rule also allows the State to charge a processing fee for each variance request.
A public hearing on the administrative rule was conducted on November 1, 2017, Leiopapa A Kamehameha building, 235 South Beretania Street, Honolulu, Hawaii. Prior notification of the public hearing was publicized in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hawaii Tribune-Herald, West Hawaii Today, The Maui News, and The Garden Island, on September 29, 2017. Also, public notice about the administrative rule and the hearing was posted on this website and at all four county building permit offices prior to the public hearing.
More background and supporting information can be found on the Frequently Asked Questions: