Hawaii PUC Tells Utilities: Integrate Solar and Keep it Cheap

Arguably the most naturally beautiful and isolated state, Hawaii’s electricity providers are preparing to seriously integrate solar power into its electric grid – whether they like it or not.  The Public Utilities Commission of Hawaii recently instructed the state’s utility, Hawaiian Electric Company, to form a plan to integrate more rooftop solar panels into the grid and lower electric rates in the process.  Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) also includes Maui Electric Company and Hawaii Electric Light.  The PUC’s orders require,

. . . the HECO Companies to develop and implement major improvement action plans to aggressively pursue energy cost reductions, proactively respond to emerging renewable energy integration challenges, improve the interconnection process for customer sited solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, and embrace customer demand response programs.

Hawaiian Governor Neil Abercrombie made the austerity of the PUC’s decision clear when he was quoted as saying, “These are not recommendations. These are decisions and orders for action plans that have to be put forward to the PUC’s satisfaction within the next 120 days.”

The Hawaii PUC’s guidelines are well-timed.  A report in Pacific Business News published April 24, 2014 explains the general distrust much of the public has regarding Hawaii Electric’s willingness to aggressively roll out more solar power.  An opinion poll commissioned by the Alliance for Solar Choice, and conducted by Hawaiian polling firm SMS, revealed that not only did the overwhelming majority (about 94%) of Hawaiian residents support rooftop solar, but they are suspicious that HECO resists solar installations in order to protect its revenue stream.

The veracity of the public’s suspicion over Hawaii Electric’s position on rooftop solar deployment is nearly impossible to substantiate, and honestly, it probably doesn’t matter.  The fact is that the utility must now comply with the PUC’s directives, and coincidentally, these orders address both the issue of electricity prices, and renewable energy integration – particularly rooftop solar PV systems.  Hawaii Electric has the perfect opportunity to win consumer trust back by embracing rooftop solar and keeping energy rates as low as possible.  Perhaps as HECO works towards these goals at a faster pace, the public will begin to view their utility as an ally to their own goals for cleaner energy at a lower cost.

HECO also stands in a unique position to demonstrate to the world that energy prices can remain reasonable as renewable distributed resources like rooftop solar are aggressively integrated into the grid structure.  HECO’s plan must be submitted within the next few months, and we’re eager to find out what solutions the company devises.

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