Last week Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO) announced its plan to triple the amount of rooftop solar in its service area on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island. At the same time however, it proposed gutting net-metering—one of the most popular incentive programs to support the expansion of rooftop solar power across the country.
The utility filed its proposal with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission last week. In its proposal it outlined its plans to move from the current net-metering scheme for rooftop solar under which it reimburses customers with rooftop solar power for the power they put back on the grid. Instead it would enact a tariff system for future customers that choose to install rooftop solar. The changes, it said, would help the utility source 65 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030.
“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.”
The new system would more tie the amounts reimbursed for the rooftop solar power that homeowners put back on the grid to the costs of other energy sources, like oil, that HECO uses to produce electricity. GTM Research noted the filing stated that the range under the proposal would be 14.7 cents per kilowatt-hour to 22.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in January 2015. That’s about half what electric prices were in its service territories in December 2014.
“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,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service. “That number keeps growing. So change is needed to ensure a program that’s fair and sustainable for all customers.”
The utility said the new program will allow it to create to accept much higher amounts of distributed solar power in its network because it could invest in more solar infrastructure. The company said that already distributed solar is producing more than 15 percent of the load on many of its circuits and that to prevent overvoltage while still allowing more distributed solar it needs to increase the amount of over voltage it can safely accept. According to GTM Research, this will include the use of smart meters and energy storage systems, among other component upgrades. The infrastructure will include new performance standards established by Hawaiian Electric, SolarCity and the Electric Power Research Institute.
While GTM Research asserted that solar installers and homeowners may not appreciate the loss of net metering in exchanged for a tariff system the tradeoffs will allow for significantly more solar in HECO’s network, which could eliminate “the real bottleneck for Hawaii’s solar installers,” which has been lower amounts of permitted projects in the past years as HECO’s electric grids have reached their solar saturation points.Tweet