Hawaii’s Solar Battle
A new rule on the island of Oahu requires homeowners to seek utility permission before installing photovoltaic panels
Hawaii is the latest arena where homeowners are going head-to-head with their electric utility over residential solar installations.
According to a Reuters' report, homeowners on the island of Oahu must now seek the permission of the Hawaiian Electric Co., and possibly pay for upgrades to nearby electrical circuits, before they can install solar panels on their own roofs.
The new rule went into effect in September. Reuters says the same rule has been in place on the other Hawaiian islands for some time, but it hasn't caused the same kind of uproar as it has on Oahu, home to about three-quarters of the state's population.
Hawaii is one of several states where utilities are seeking to change the rules for residential solar systems. Elsewhere, utility executives have complained that customers with solar installations aren't paying their fair share for grid maintenance and put an unfair burden on non-solar customers.
Arizona Public Service now charges a fee for solar installations; in other states, utilities have sought to lower the amount they pay homeowners for the power they generate.
Rooftop power is 'inconsistent'
On Oahu, the new rule has cut business in half for many solar installers. Permits for rooftop installations also have been trimmed by about half. Previously, solar installations had doubled every year since 2010, Reuters says.
Part of the trouble on Oahu is that Hawaiian Electric is running a small, independent power grid. The utility says rooftop installations there generate electricity inconsistently and make the power grid less safe and less reliable.
"It's almost like you have a 200 MW power plant ... and you don't know what it's going to do," a Hawaiian Electric vice president told Reuters. "This is not about the electric company trying to put barriers in front of people."
Hawaii has very high electric rates and, as a result, lots of homeowners have solar panels. Roughly 10% of Hawaiian Electric customers generate their own electricity, Reuters says, compared with 1.4% in California. Hawaii has set a goal of generating 40% of its power from renewable sources by the year 2030, the report said.
Fri, 01/17/2014 - 16:06