Hawaiian Electric Companies Propose New Plan for PV Systems
By Maui Now Staff
The Hawaiian Electric Companies are proposing a new plan for PV systems that will reportedly increase the use of solar power in a way that is safe, sustainable, and fair for all customers on the power grid.
Through the proposed “Transitional Distribution Generation” plan, the companies hope to increase distributed solar power and renewable energy sources to over 65 percent by 2030, and double circuit capacities for PV systems on the electric grid, while reducing customer electric bills. The program also aims to distribute operating and maintenance costs for the electric grid more evenly among customers.
“We want to ensure a sustainable rooftop solar program to help our customers lower their electric bills,” said Alan Oshima, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO. “That means taking an important first step by transitioning to a program where all customers are fairly sharing in the cost of the grid we all rely on.”
Solar customers who are currently on the existing Net Energy Metering program use the electric grid daily, sending energy into the grid and using power only when their system cannot draw sunlight. Many of these customer reduce their energy bills drastically, shifting the majority of costs associated with maintaining and operating the grid to those without PV systems.
“At the end of 2013, the annualized cost shift from customers who have rooftop solar to those who don’t totaled about $38 million. As of the end of 2014, the annualized cost shift had grown to $53 million–an increase of $15 million. And that number keeps growing. So change is needed to ensure a program that’s fair and sustainable for all customers,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service.
The proposed plan would address this issue by adjusting credits issued to customers with solar systems generating energy to account for operation and maintenance costs of the electric grid.
Current solar customers on the Net Energy Metering program, and those with pending applications will not be affected if the transitional plan is implemented. The new program will apply only to new customers.
The Hawaiian Electric Companies will also be implementing newly developed performance standards, as established by the collaborative effort of Hawaiian Electric, SolarCity, and the Electric Power Research Institute. The new standards are designed to accommodate a larger network of PV systems, and can reportedly reduce the risk of damage to personal electronics in customer homes and to utility equipment on the grid, increase safety for electrical line workers, and decrease the possibility of power outages.
The companies will work with the solar industry on these system upgrades to determine where demand is highest. The State of Hawai‘i’s Green Energy Market Securitization program will make low-cost loans available to customers needing financial assistance for necessary solar improvements.
Hawaiian Electric is also planning a community solar program in an effort to make solar available to all customers, including those who may be unable to install rooftop solar systems like renters or condo dwellers.
The transitional plan is pending approval by the Public Utilities Commission, following a request by Hawaiian Electric to accept the program within 60 days. The plan would remain in effect until the PUC has developed a permanent replacement program in collaboration with stakeholders across the solar community, including the solar industry.
The Hawaiian Electric Companies have more than 51,000 customers with rooftop solar systems. As of December 2014, about 12 percent of Hawaiian Electric customers, 10 percent of Maui Electric customers and 9 percent of Hawai‘i Electric Light customers have rooftop solar. Hawai‘i has comparatively higher rates of solar customer compared with the national average which stands at one-half of 1 percent, as of December 2013.