Looking to reduce its reliance on oil imports for its energy, Hawaii became the first state to require solar water heaters on new single-family homes, starting Jan. 1, 2010. After that date, no building permits will be issued unless there is a solar water heater in the plans.

The bill, SB644, was signed in June and allows variances for other types of energy-efficient water heating if solar access is not available at a site or if life-cycle analysis demonstrates that a solar system will be cost prohibitive over a 15-year period. These include variances for use of a substitute renewable energy system or a gas-fired, tankless, instantaneous heater.

The law also requires creating and adopting standards for “the performance, materials, components, durability, longevity, proper sizing, installation, and quality” by July 2009.

In 1976, Hawaii adopted state income tax credits as incentives for solar system installations that have succeeded in increasing the number of systems in use, as well as creating jobs within the state’s solar industry. In 2001, the state refunded $2.76 million to the 2,500 homeowners who purchased systems that year.

But that was when oil prices averaged $23 per barrel, according to the language in the bill. With oil prices setting new records almost every day, the legislature decided that state tax incentives would not help Hawaii meet its energy and environmental goals, thus the mandate. State tax incentives will be available until the new law takes effect in 2010.