Bills would give customers piece of the energy business

Honolulu Star Advertiser - March 1, 2015
Vicki Viotti

Most Hawaii electricity customers are not in a position to own a piece of the utility, as the members of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative do, and prospects for doing so remain a long way off at best.
However, lawmakers are pushing measures, one moving through each chamber of the state Capitol, to give more of them a chance at least to own a piece of a power-generation system.

Senate Bill 1050 and House Bill 484 began with language authored by state Sen. Mike Gabbard, whose efforts last session ended with a measure stalled in conference committee.

Gabbard said he has greater hopes of success this year to achieve the bills' aim of creating a community-based renewable energy program. This would enable small-scale generation facilities (under 1 megawatt capacity) to be built, funded by revenue from tariffs paid by anyone who wants an interest in the project.

The utility would compensate participating ratepayers for their share of the energy produced.

Gabbard said the idea is being tried in other states, including Colorado, New Mexico and Minnesota. The idea is to extend the savings of renewable energy to renters, organizations and others left out of the popular net-metering photovoltaic program, he said (the bills would open the door to wind and other renewables, in addition to solar).

"It allows them to collectively own or lease the project," he said. "It's just an amazing concept."