Hawaii Lawmakers Propose Bill To Make Solar More Accessible

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Hawaii lawmakers are eager to get the state’s once-booming, half a billion dollar solar industry back on track. On January 30, 2014, a bill seeking to modernize the Hawaii electric system passed through its first hearing. House Bill 1943 would establish a set of rules that would make solar more accessible and ensure that residents could interconnect to the Hawaii electric system in a timely manner and for a reasonable cost.

Here is video footage from Hawaii News Now – KGMB and KHNL that discusses the new Hawaii Solar bill HB 1943.

In September 2013, Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) implemented a new policy that forces solar customers to gain the utility’s approval before connecting to the grid, leaving hundreds of residents in limbo as well as affecting the employees who work at the 88+ solar companies throughout the state. HECO is concerned that the growth in solar energy could result in power outages or surges that might potentially damage equipment or harm workers.

Since HECO’s new rule was enforced, Hawaii has seen a steep decline in solar activity. According to Blue Planet Foundation testimony, solar building permits dropped 49% in October 2013 compared to October 2012, and solar interconnection fell 48% in November and 41% in December 2013 compared to the year before. HECO points out that despite the slowdown, Hawaii photovoltaic installations continued to grow with a 39% increase over 2012, ending the year with a total of 40,159 systems interconnected to the grid with a total capacity of 300 MW. While this growth sounds positive, Hawaii is used to seeing solar power double annually, as it has for the past five years.

With the highest electricity rates in the nation, ample amounts of sunshine, and incentives from both the federal and state government, it’s easy to see why Hawaii loves solar. Even with its recent popularity, 9 out of 10 Hawaii residents still have not installed solar panels yet, so there is massive potential for continued growth, which is why the legislature is stepping in.

“We’re going through a major energy transformation and from that transformation what we want is fairness and equity.  Customers that receive their services from the grid pay their fair share and customers that provide benefits to support a robust grid are compensated justly,” said Mina Morita, the Public Utilities Commission Chair.

HB 1943 would require “the Hawaii public utilities commission open a proceeding by July 1, 2014, to address these technical and economic barriers and to ensure all Hawaii customers have the ability to install solar in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost without sacrificing the safe and reliable operation of the Hawaii electric system.”

“Our first priority is the safety and reliability of service to all our customers,” HECO Senior Vice President For Customer Service Jim Alberts said in a statement. “At the same time, we remain committed to a strong, sustainable solar industry in Hawaii. We continue to approve new solar systems for interconnection daily and we are working to find ways to add more solar power, including on circuits that already have large amounts of PV installed.”

“I think it’s in the utility’s own interest to make changes themselves to their business model – to be a 21st century distributor of electricity so they can continue to thrive – but they’re going to have to adapt in the face of new technology.  If they’re not going to move there themselves we have to help make sure they do because we need a viable utility with a sound business model,” said Representative Chris Lee (D – Kailua, Lanikai, Waimanalo), the House Energy and Environmental Protection committee Chair, who introduced the bill.

HB 1943 will now go to both the House Consumer Protection and Finance committees for discussion and review.

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