Hawaii lawmakers consider overruling regulator on solar energy program rates

The price that most Hawaii electrical utility customers pay for, or in some cases receive payment for, grid stability is being wrestled over at the state Legislature.

A pair of bills sought by the rooftop solar industry seek to increase rates that residential and business rooftop solar system owners receive for helping Hawaiian Electric balance its power needs on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii island under a program approved by the state Public Utilities Commission in December and scheduled to begin March 1.


But the state’s consumer advocate and the Hawaii State Energy Office have raised concerns that the legislation, if enacted into law, will result in higher bills for customers who don’t have rooftop solar.

One of the two measures, House Bill 1687, advanced after an initial public hearing Jan. 30 amid dominant supportive tes­timony from solar energy companies as well as individual testifiers who include industry workers.

The Hawaii Solar Energy Association contends that compensation levels in the new PUC-approved program, where rooftop solar system owners export electricity to the grid when Hawaiian Electric needs it, doesn’t make financial sense for system owners to participate and therefore will depress industry business and lead to job losses.

The PUC reduced the export compensation rate from prior interim grid support program levels and settled on a new rate that was more than Hawaiian Electric wanted but less than the solar industry group wanted.

Rocky Mould, executive director of the industry group mainly representing rooftop solar companies, told the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection that the new program rate for exported power will depress industry sales, perhaps by around 60%.

“What this bill is about is harnessing rooftop solar and energy storage systems from customers and helping the rest of the grid to get to our renewable energy goals,” he said. “And what we need to do is we need to incentivize, properly, customers to make those investments so that they can (export energy).”

Hawaiian Electric and two state agency officials familiar with the PUC decision, which was made after four years of work and rooftop solar industry engagement, told the committee that they have concerns that paying rooftop solar system owners more for exporting energy under the program will come at the expense of other utility customers.

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