Hawaiian utility bids to slash net metering payments

Utility the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) could be forgiven for being less than enthusiastic about the achievements of its partner organization – U.S. inverter company Enphase Energy – in the 50th state.

Enphase, having helped stabilize the Hawaiian grid in February by remotely upgrading its 25,000 installed microinverters in the state, this week announced it had cleared 90 per cent of the backlog in rooftop system applications in Oahu, in line with a promise made to the utility in October.

Wednesday’s announcement that, as a result, 20 MW of new distributed generation (DG) would be added to HECO’s grid prompted Raghu Belur, vice-president of products and strategic initiatives for Enphase to state: "With the backlog gone, the solar community on Oahu can now get back to what it does best – installing rooftop solar and helping customers save on their energy bills."

Quite how much they will save on their energy bills depends on whether the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approves HECO’s request to slash the payments it makes to system owners for their excess power under the state’s net metering regime.

According to a report on the website of Hawaiian television news channel KITV4 yesterday (Thursday), the utility wants to sharply reduce the rate paid for DG power from its current rate of 26.1 U.S. cents/kWh.

Payback time could almost double

Although the article did not specify figures, it claims HECO has estimated the result would be that system payback time would rise from four to six years on the island of Maui, from four to seven years on the Big Island and from five to nine years on Oahu.

According to KITV4, HECO is justifying the move by claiming it will reduce the $53 million solar maintenance cost burden related to Hawaii’s 51,000 solar systems which was paid by energy consumers without solar last year.

Colin Yost, chief operating officer of Honolulu-based installer Revolusun told KITV4 HECO is also proposing that anyone with a solar system operating under the current regime will receive the new, lower, payments for all panels if they choose to upgrade their rooftops with the addition of extra panels.

According to the online report, HECO denied the claim, stating merely that the regulations relating to system upgrades were merely under discussion.

With both sides at loggerheads, HECO and the solar companies have been given until the end of June to reach a negotiated settlement to the dispute before it is forced to step in.