Hawaiian Electric affirms commitment to solar

Hawaiian Electric has dismissed the results of a recent poll commissioned by The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) that suggested a vast majority of state residents believe the utility is hampering development of rooftop solar.

Citing the poll, TASC said 90% of Hawaii residents believe Hawaiian Electric is slowing rooftop solar to protect its profits while 94% support more rooftop solar.

Honolulu-based polling firm SMS conducted the poll, which surveyed 405 residents on the islands of Oahu, Maui and the Big Island (Hawaii Island), according to TASC.

Responding to TASC’s findings, Hawaiian Electric rejected the poll and questioned the alliance’s motivations, saying the company ranked 10th nationally for total megawatts of solar power, ahead of much larger utilities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and New Jersey.

Speaking to pv magazine, Hawaiian Electric spokesman Peter Rosegg said the Solar Electric Power Association’s annual rankings for 2013, expected to be released next week, will show that Hawaiian Electric also ranked fifth for newly installed solar power per customer, with the group’s subsidiaries Hawaii Electric Light and Maui Electric in seventh and eighth place, respectively.

Rosegg added that for total installed solar power per customer, Hawaiian Electric ranks fourth, the independent Kauai Island Utility Cooperative sixth, Maui Electric eighth and Hawaii Electric Light on Hawaii Island 16th among dozens of utilities across the nation.

"Therefore, it is hard to reconcile these statistics with the claims of the solar alliance that Hawaiian Electric is an obstacle to rooftop solar."

Rosegg said Hawaiian Electric had invested heavily in grid modernization and voluntarily increased the levels of PV penetration multiple times.

"When has Hawaiian Electric opposed modernizing the electricity grid? I’m not aware of any efforts on their part to resist modernizing their very own infrastructure."

Dismissing TASC’s survey, Rosegg said, "Unfortunately, this kind of push poll is not a surprise given who commissioned the poll. All these companies rely on new sales to make money. Any perceived impediments have to be identified, challenged and overcome."

Rosegg called for greater dialogue and cooperation between the PV industry and the utilities "rather than bashing them at virtually every opportunity. How could Hawaii be the No. 1 state in the nation as far as installed PV per capita if Hawaiian Electric were so obstructionist, so set on maintaining their alleged ‘archaic and rickety old grid’?"

More to the point, Rosegg offered the company’s official response to the TASC poll:

Contrary to common misconception, our utilities do not lose revenue when customers install rooftop solar on homes and business. Under the method now used to set electric rates, we’re able to recover costs incurred to serve all customers who remain connected to the grid (including PV customers who use the grid daily). So our policies on rooftop solar are not about profits or the financial impact on the utility.

That said, we understand the frustrations of customers in neighborhoods with especially high levels of PV who aren’t able to add new systems as quickly as they hoped. We’re committed to supporting rooftop solar in a way that ensures safe and reliable service to all customers. That’s the fundamental responsibility we owe to all our customers and we cannot back away from that.

Even as Hawaii continues to achieve record levels of rooftop solar on all our grids, we are encountering safety and reliability concerns before anywhere else in the nation. Working closely with the solar industry and others, we continue to develop and adopt solutions to address some of those issues. And we will do more.

We all agree that we must reduce our state’s dependence on imported oil. Hawaii should take pride that we are a national leader when it comes to the use of solar power and other renewables and it’s critical that we continue to build on this progress.

PV installations in Hawaii grew at a strong pace last year. A total of 17,609 solar installations with more than 129 MW of capacity were added to the Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light Company grids in 2013 — an increase of 39 percent over the previous year.

Rooftop solar on Hawaiian Electric grids roughly doubled each year from 2008 to 2012. The pace slowed last year, however. As of the end of 2013, almost 10% of customers on the island of Oahu were using rooftop solar. By comparison, Hawaiian Electric estimates that utilities in California, Arizona and in other parts of the nation are at 2% to 3% at most. About 300 MW of solar capacity are installed on Hawaiian Electric grids.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative awarded a grant to the Hawaiian Electric group to develop enhanced energy management systems (EMS) to help utilities manage system impacts from increasing amounts of variable renewable energy on electric grids. The Energy Department is providing $500,000 to match industry contributions.