Some HECO customers get break from new solar rules

Honolulu Star Advertiser - November 28, 2013
By: 
Alan Yonan

Hawaiian Electric Co. has announced steps to help hundreds of customers on Oahu who were caught in limbo as a result of changes the utility made in September to its interconnection procedures for solar photovoltaic systems.

As many as 700 HECO customers were in the process of installing PV systems when the utility announced the changes Sept. 6 to address potential safety and reliability concerns due to growing levels of solar energy penetration in some areas on Oahu. The customers, who had not yet submitted the required paperwork under HECO's net energy metering program, faced potential delays and additional costs as a result of the new procedures.

HECO's "grandfather" arrangement announced Wednesday allows those customers to operate under the procedures in place before Sept. 6.

"We want to be fair and assist customers in high-PV areas who made financial or contractual commitments to install a PV system prior to the procedure change," said Jim Alberts, HECO senior vice president of customer service. "We're committed to helping our customers move forward with their installations."

HECO, the Hawaii Solar Energy Association and Hawaii PV Coalition worked together to define the criteria that will apply to customers who committed to PV systems prior to the September changes, according to Alberts. The agreement will allow the customers to interconnect their systems at no additional costs for equipment upgrades and, in most cases, without having to wait for a detailed interconnection study, according to HECO.

To qualify for the pre-Sept. 6 treatment, the PV systems must meet three criteria:

» The system must be 10 kilowatts or less in size.

» Customers must provide to HECO a fully executed and binding contract with a solar company signed on or before Sept. 9 for the purchase or lease of a net energy-metered PV system. Customers also have the option of submitting evidence that they made a legally binding financial commitment to a PV system, such as a loan document. (A utility-provided form is available on the HECO website at hawaiianelectric.com/goingsolar.) The documents must be postmarked by Dec. 31.

» HECO must have received the customer's signed net energy metering contract by Oct. 31, 2013.

In addition, the PV systems must pass the standard safety review.

The announcement was welcomed by solar industry representatives and lawmakers.

"After the surprise of the initial changes, this process has been remarkably smooth and collaborative," said Mark Duda, president of the Hawaii PV Coalition. "What I'm most encouraged about are the ideas that we are continuing to work on to expand the interconnection opportunities and even on circuits that already have substantial PV penetration."

Leslie Cole-Brooks, executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, called the agreement a "positive step" to address the concerns of those who were caught in the transition to the new procedures.

"We hope this allows these customers to quickly get the benefits of PV systems," she said.

Sen Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo) said he thought the agreement was fair to homeowners who had spent the money to install PV systems but were not able to use them.

"I'm hopeful these constructive talks will continue to ensure that the solar industry keeps growing, the grid stays reliable and homes and businesses continue having the opportunity to go solar in a timely and low-cost manner," he said.