Hawaiian utility facing increasing costs due to solar boom

With residential solar power increasing rapidly in Hawaii, users are facing increasing costs for grid connection upgrades from the U.S. state’s utility.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO) has been contacting contractors and customers who plan to install solar panels to make sure they know about equipment upgrades they might have to pay for. The utility is asking to be contacted before customers install their panels.

The newspaper reported on Friday that rooftop solar panels are providing all of the electricity consumed during daylight hours in some 13% of neighborhoods on Oahu, the state’s most populous island. According to the utility, about 5% of its customers on Oahu and on the island of Maui have installed PV systems, as have some 4% of customers on Big Island.

Hawaii ranks third nationally in the amount of electricity generated by solar energy on a per capita basis, according to Solar Energy Industries Association.

In an Associated Press report, Scott Seu, Hawaiian Electric Co. vice president for energy resources and operations, said, "One of the biggest challenges is that we have had this growth in the photovoltaic sector that’s been so fast and so explosive. What we are looking at now is just trying to stay a step ahead."

Sierra Club Hawaii Director Robert Harris said he was concerned that having to contact that utility in advance could slow solar power installations for homeowners.

HECO has a similar "call before you install" system for Maui and Hawaii counties that has made customers better informed about the time and cost to install a system, said Marco Mangelsdorf, president of ProVision Solar, which is based in Hilo, on the island of Hawaii (also known as Big Island).

"Years ago the amount of PV power feeding into the grid was essentially inconsequential," he said. "That’s no longer the case."