PUC approves HECO’s new rooftop solar programs, pricing changes

Local News

There’s a major shake-up in how homeowners are paying for solar systems.

Some homeowners will now have to pay more for keeping their systems on the grid, thanks to a new pricing structure approved by the Public Utilities Commission.

The commission approved two new rooftop PV programs for Hawaiian Electric: Grid Supply and Self Supply.

The utility describes the programs, which will be offered to Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light Company later this month, as:

  • Grid Supply, which provides rooftop PV customers on Oahu and Hawaii island with credits on their electric bills for excess electricity sent to the grid at a fixed rate of approximately 15 cents per kilowatt-hour. Customers on Maui would be credited at approximately 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, Molokai at approximately 24 cents per kilowatt-hour, and Lanai at approximately 28 cents per kilowatt-hour.
  • Self Supply, which is designed for customers with rooftop PV systems and energy storage, such as batteries. It provides for an expedited review and approval of applications in areas with high levels of PV.

The good news is that these programs provide homeowners with new options to install PV panels.

The bad news is that the new structure reduces credits to homeowners, from 25 cents per kilowatt hour to 15 cents for Oahu residents. Credits to Maui and Hawaii Island homeowners are about slashed in half.

In addition, to help cover the fixed costs of providing service to PV customers who remain connected to the grid for continued service even when their PV systems are not producing energy, new residential PV system owners will pay a minimum monthly bill of $25.

That’s up from the $17 Oahu residents were paying.

These new options will replace the Net Energy Metering (NEM) program. Customers with a current NEM agreement and those with valid pending applications submitted prior to Oct. 13, 2015 will continue under the NEM program.

Current NEM customers who want to install more PV panels or otherwise modify their current systems will be required to transition to either the new Grid Supply or Self Supply programs.

Officials tell us the changes are necessary because of the ever-growing solar industry in the islands.

“I was told that 15 years ago we had maybe 800 PVs. Today we have over 51,000. That raises new issues and challenges,” said PUC chair Randy Iwase. “The energy field is not a static field. It constantly changes and we have to be on a constant state of evolution.”

“We appreciate the PUC’s thorough review of the complex issues that need to be balanced,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service. “We see solar power as an important part of the diverse set of renewable energy solutions needed to help lower customer bills and meet Hawaii’s goal of a 100 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2045.”

However, one solar company says these changes will slow the industry.

“Everyone who has a solar system now are grandfathered and this doesn’t affect them at all, but for people who are trying to get on, of which there is an enormous demand,” said Colin Yost, COO of Revolusun, “and actually the market has been shifting to more moderate- and lower-income people getting access to solar, so now it is going to be harder for them to get access to solar. They are still going to be able to do it, but the value is going to be substantially less and that is not really fair.”

Yost believes there’s no good reason to stop NEM.

“This is the first state in the nation to do this and it is ironic because Hawaii is this place that has a 2045 100-percent renewable energy goal and is extremely supportive of renewable energy and then they go and do things like this which will take us a step back,” he said. “Everyone is going to stop for a moment and think about it and it will slow down the rate of adoption.”

The PUC also agreed to allow the Hawaiian Electric Companies to submit a revised time-of-use rate proposal to further expand options for our customers.

The PUC stated that these programs are intended to serve as transitional programs while it continues to develop long-term solutions.

The new Grid Supply and Self Supply programs are expected to be available to customers by Oct. 21.

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