HECO: Solar applicants may need to pay for grid upgrades

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People who want to install solar in their homes through the Net Energy Metering Program just found out they may have to pay extra money to make it happen.

The program is closed to new applicants, but 1,100 people are on the wait list because they applied before the October 2015 deadline.

This week, those applicants received a letter from Hawaiian Electric letting them know a study would need to be done in their homes to see if they can interconnect to the system.

“If we allow remaining applications to interconnect without needed upgrades, it could affect quality of electric service to all their neighbors, not just their own home. The studies once completed will tell us what needs to be done,” explained HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg.

HECO is paying for the study, but says homeowners will need to pay for any costs associated with the solution. That extra cost isn’t sitting well with solar customers and solar companies, including RevoluSun.

“People generally have an affirmative right to connect to the grid, and if something else comes up that interferes with that right, HECO needs to be very specific and clear about why it’s necessary,” said Colin Yost, RevoluSun COO.

Hawaiian Electric says it’s all necessary to protect the electric grid. Rosegg said one outcome may be that no upgrades are required, but, he added, it’s not fair to ask those who are not receiving solar benefits to pay the costs if upgrades are required.

The letter also includes an application withdrawal form, something Yost finds disturbing.

Yost said it “almost seems like they are suggesting, ‘Hey, if you want to give up, that’s fine. Just give up already.'”

The Public Utilities Commission told KHON2 it just learned about the letter Thursday afternoon, and asked HECO if all 1,100 applicants would be receiving the letter.

HECO says yes, along with roughly 70 customers who applied under the new Grid Supply program. We learned those customers may pay between $1,700 to $3,100 each, depending on the work that needs to be done.

HECO couldn’t give us an estimate on how much each net-metering customer would have to pay for the upgrades. Officials say it depends on how many homes in a given neighborhood are getting solar systems and sharing the costs.

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