Hawaii state senator concerned with Hawaiian Electric's new rooftop solar plan

Pacific Business News - January 22, 2015
By: 
Duane Shimogawa

A Hawaii state senator is concerned about Hawaiian Electric Co.'s plans to get rid of the net energy metering program, which credits rooftop solar customers at the full retail value of electricity.
The program also has been one of the main factors for the record-breaking growth of rooftop solar in Hawaii.

State Sen. Mike Gabbard, D-Kapolei-Makakilo-Ewa, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, told PBN that he does not think that getting rid of the program is the right decision for the state to continue to be a national leader in renewable energy.

Net energy metering or NEM, allows rooftop solar customers to shift the burden of operating the grid to full-service customers, while still benefiting from access to the grid's physical infrastructure for import and export of power.

In 2013, the program's cost to full-service customers totaled $38.5 million, representing about 1.3 percent of the collected rates for the Hawaiian Electric Cos., which include HECO, Maui Electric Co., and Hawaii Electric Light Co.

Under the Honolulu-based utility's new rooftop solar plan revealed this week, the new NEM program would credit customers at a rate that better reflects the cost of the electricity produced by their rooftop solar systems, which is consistent with how Kauai Island Utility Cooperative compensates its solar customers.
"HECO has asked the [Hawaii Public Utilities Commission] to effectively bring their NEM program to a close and I believe that the PUC will ultimately agree to do so albeit with some likely modifications," Marco Mangelsdorf, president of Hilo-based ProVision Solar, told PBN in an email. Although the news of this program concerns some in the industry, Gabbard said that HECO's plan also has some good news in it.

HECO said that, due to findings in a joint study with the National Renewable Energy Lab and SolarCity, it expects to be able to more than double the threshold for neighborhood circuits to accept solar to 250 percent of daytime minimum load from 120 percent of daytime minimum load.

"It was great to hear that the findings of the study did show that HECO is able to raise its solar penetration levels for the circuits they had closed to more PV," Gabbard said in an email to PBN. "I'm hopeful they speed up the process of clearing the queue as quickly as possible for all those folks who've been waiting for months."

HECO is asking the PUC to approve the new program within a little less than 60 days.