By Henry Curtis
Currently about 13 percent of single family homes in the HECO, MECO and HELCO territory have rooftop solar.
The 2015 Hawaii State Legislature sought to address the issue of making solar available to everyone instead of a minority of customers.
“While residential solar energy use has grown dramatically across the State in recent years, many residents and businesses are currently unable to directly participate in renewable energy generation because of their location, building type, access to the electric utility grid, and other impediments.
The community-based renewable energy program seeks to rectify this inequity by dramatically expanding the market for eligible renewable energy resources to include residential and business renters, occupants of residential and commercial buildings with shaded or improperly oriented roofs, and other groups who are unable to access the benefits of onsite clean energy generation.”
SB 1050 (Act 100) required the HECO Companies to develop a program and submit it to the Public Utilities Commission.
The HECO Companies used to opportunity to attack the Net Energy Metering program.
Under Net Energy Metering a customer with Rooftop Solar can transfer one unit of energy to the grid during the day and pull one unit of energy out in the evening. The customer pays a small minimum monthly bill.
HECO has asserted that this results in customers without solar subsidizing those with solar. Several independent national analyses have shown that this isn’t true. But it sounds good and utilities across the country have sought to use this argument to reign in rooftop solar.
Under HECO’s proposed community-based renewable energy program (CBRE), a customer would be able to purchase a share of the solar energy produced from a centralized solar facility. They would not be part owners of the facility itself.
There would no longer be a one-for-one swap. The ratio would increase to two or three to one. Thus if their share of the solar facility output amounted to 200-300 kilowatt-hours per month, they could reduce the amount of their residential customer bill by 100 kilowatt-hours per month.
The 73-page proposal by HECO adds a lot of complexity to the simple idea.
The program is not open-ended but is restricted to 32 megawatts total on five islands. On Lana`i and Moloka`i the facilities would generate wind-power -- not solar-power -- rom five 100-kW systems per island.
Customers who sign up for the program would have to pay initiation fees and monthly fees to both the developers and the utility.
Customers would be restricted on how many shares they can buy.
But perhaps more importantly, the program is available not only to those who can’t put solar on their roofs, but also to those who can but choose not to.
Thus the Legislative goal of providing an opportunity to those who are “unable to directly participate in renewable energy generation” will instead be available to virtually every Hawai`i-owned residence and business.
In fact, the program is designed such that it is possible that only those who could put solar on their private homes get all of the benefits and those who are “unable to directly participate in renewable energy generation” will continue to be unable to participate in the solar revolution.
HECO’s proposal can be accessed on the Public Utilities Commission’s Tariff Page by writing *Hawaiian Electric* on the Company Name tab. (The asterisks are required). The web site will then produce a list of tariffs. The new proposed tariff is Transmittal Number 15-09.
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