Will 2015 be brighter for solar in Hawaii?

KITV - January 7, 2014
Paul Drewes

Clouds of uncertainty have been hanging over Hawaii's residential solar industry. But will 2015 be brighter?
Installations of residential solar systems have been dropping over the past two years.

In 2014, the numbers were down by 50 percent from the year before, going from 13,303 to 6,554 permits issued.

Fewer homeowners may be signing up to go green because Hawaii's solar energy future is up in the air.

Part of the uncertainty comes from the proposed sale of Hawaiian Electric to Nextera.

"There is a lot of concern and questions because this utility has been opposed to allowing people to put in their own solar, and had made it more expensive," said Rep. Chris Lee.
Nextera's president has publicly stated the company is not in favor of rebates for residential solar, but tax credits are a big draw for homeowners because of the big savings.

Currently there is a 30 percent federal tax credit. There is also a $5,000 tax credit for each 5kW system from the state.

Local lawmakers said right now that credit is staying put.

"The solar tax credit is still in place. I don't plan on introducing anything that would affect that solar tax credit," said Sen. Mike Gabbard.

The federal tax credit could come to an end after 2016.

While there had been talk of limiting the local tax credit, Gabbard said that wouldn't happen for years.

"I've continued to be in contact with the solar industry and all the other stake-holders and people seem to be satisfied with where it is right now," said Gabbard.

Nearly 5,000 homeowners are waiting to connect their solar system to the energy grid.

But 2015 could also have some bright spots.

A mainland study, paid for by HECO and solar installers, is looking at how residential solar can continue to expand in Hawaii. Those results are due at the end of the month.
"We want to ensure people can continue to install solar because it is the only way people can save on their electric bills," said Lee.

Lee also plans to introduce legislation this session that will allow condo and apartment users to buy into community solar projects, even though the panels would be installed on someone else's roof.
"We've seen hundreds of people who say, 'We want to take advantage of these tax credits before they go away but we don't have a roof.' This would change that," said Lee.

There will be an informational meeting on solar interconnection, including results of the mainland study on Jan. 20 at the state capitol.

Then in February, Nextera will submit more detailed plans to the Public Utilities Commission and outline Hawaii's energy future.