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State roundup for April 29

Spending by visitors drops

HONOLULU (AP) — Spending by visitors in Hawaii fell by 3.5 percent in March compared with the same month one year ago to $1.2 billion.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority said Monday the number of travelers to Hawaii dropped by 5.2 percent to fewer than 729,000 visitors.

CEO Mike McCartney says the state tourism agency has been anticipating slower growth following two record-breaking years for the industry.

He says the outlook for the summer is strong, but the fall season should be challenging.

Travelers from the state’s biggest market led the declines.

There were 9.2 percent fewer visitors to Hawaii from the western region of the U.S. in March. They also spent 14 percent less money while here.

About 2 percent more Japanese visitors came to Hawaii, but spending by Japanese declined 0.6 percent.

Industrial hemp bill to be signed

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie plans to sign a bill to establish an industrial hemp research program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Officials in the governor’s office said Monday that Abercrombie planned a signing ceremony on Wednesday afternoon.

The bill approves a two-year program to study industrial hemp remediation and biofuel research.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen said in a statement that the law’s passing could lead to Hawaii becoming a national and global player in the market for an environmentally-friendly crop. She estimates the U.S. industrial hemp market at $500 million per year.

Solar rules may increase costs

HONOLULU (AP) — A state board has issued new rules for solar panel installation that will require journeyman electricians to do more of the work, which is expected to raise the cost of installing the systems.

Hawaii’s Board of Electricians and Plumbers will require that electricians handle bonding and grounding the system. Those are safety measures that keep people from getting shocked, by diverting current into the earth.

Solar energy system contractors previously handled that step. Leslie Cole-Brooks, the executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, said solar panels are now made so that an electrician isn’t needed to ground and bond the systems safely. The rules change will make installations slower and more expensive, she said.

“A significant number of panels have been installed, and nobody could bring forward any singular incident of property damage or personal injury because of an installation,” Cole-Brooks said.

There were about a million photovoltaic panels generating power in Hawaii at the end of 2013.

Building inspectors and electrical contractors had testified to the state board that they were concerned about safety. The number of installations in recent years led some companies to use unqualified workers, they said.

The safety concerns aren’t justified, and costs are likely to rise as a result of the new rules, said Gladys Marrone, government relations director for the Building Industry Association of Hawaii.

“From the building industry’s perspective, our mission (is) to keep construction costs down for homeowners,” she said.

The board won’t finalize the rules until its next meeting June 17, said Charlene Tamanaha, the boards’ executive officer. The board took up the issue after an information request by an affiliate of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1186.


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