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PUC Approves Community Solar Program

December 26, 2017, 9:49 AM HST · Updated December 26, 9:51 AM
Nikki Schenfeld · 0 Comments
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MACC Solar panel project. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Solar power will soon be an option for many Hawaiʻi residents and businesses—regardless if they rent, live in a condo, or lack a rooftop to install their own solar panels.

On Friday, Dec. 22, the Public Utilities Commission issued a decision directing Hawaiʻi’s electric utilities to implement a community-based renewable energy program. Customers should be able to participate starting in 2018.

“Community solar democratizes access to clean energy,” said Melissa Miyashiro, Blue Planet Foundation’s chief of staff. “We believe everyone should have the opportunity to choose clean energy for their home or business.”

Through the new program, electricity customers will be allowed to subscribe to a solar energy project located anywhere on their island grid. Participants will receive credit for that energy on their electric bill, just as if the panels were located on their own roof. This will mean that condo owners can directly participate in renewable energy, even if their building has a small roof. It also means that renters who pay their own energy bills can participate, without landlord approval.

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“This program will unlock the benefits of renewable energy for more residents and businesses,” added Miyashiro. “This is an issue of equality and opportunity.”

Jeff Mikulina, executive director for Blue Planet Foundation, says the community solar program has been a priority for Blue Planet Foundation for half of a decade and that the organization advocated for measures at the legislature to establish the program since 2013.

In 2015, Senator Mike Gabbard’s Senate Bill 1050 passed the legislature and was signed in to law as Act 100 by Governor David Ige on June 8, 2015—the same day Governor Ige signed Hawaiʻi’s 100% renewable energy law. The subsequent community solar process before the Commission was beset by disagreements between renewable energy stakeholders and the utilities regarding the program size, design, ownership, credit rates, and numerous other elements.

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The Commission established two phases of the community solar program, with the first capped at 8 megawatts (about 2,500 typical residential customers, or 140 typical commercial customers), and the second phase capped at 64 megawatts total.

The second phase is anticipated to include various community-based renewable energy technologies to provide power throughout the day, assisting in grid management.

“We had hoped to see a more expansive program,” added Mikulina. “But we appreciate the Commission’s efforts in creating a broad, workable program with fair credit rates for the renewable energy produced.”

The Commission designed certain program elements to encourage “robust participation by low-to-moderate income customers,” including flexibility in program requirements and set-asides for such customers in Phase 2 of the program.

Utility tariffs to implement the program will be due to the Commission in January from the Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative and February from the Hawaiian Electric Companies.

The Decision & Order (Docket 2015-0389) is available on the Commission’s document management system website or here.

Nikki Schenfeld
Nikki joined the Maui Now team in 2016 as a writer/reporter. Originally from Chicago, she has had internships with CBS2 Chicago and Comcast SportsNet Chicago where she had the opportunity to interview some of Chicago's best athletes. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2010 with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism. She moved to Maui in 2013.
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