Star Advertiser | Kathryn Mykleseth
Hawaiian Electric Co.’s new energy plan angered solar customers, who could face higher monthly bills, but pleased non-solar customers, who might see their costs drop.
HECO’s proposal, designed to break Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuels, includes a major investment in liquefied natural gas, which environmentalists said would only delay the state’s transition to renewable energy sources.
HECO submitted its 2,731 page plan to the state Public Utilities Commision (PUC) on Tuesday, which would end the attractive rates that were offered to solar customers by HECO themselves.
HECO’s changes include a $55 monthly fee for each residential customer, solar and non-solar, beginning in 2017 and an additional charge of $16 for new solar customers. To offset the $55 fee, HECO would lower its charge per kilowatt-hour, which would benefit non-solar residents. It would also charge a connection fee to new solar customers and decrease what it pays for solar power sent back into the grid. Under the new plan, the average electricity bill will drop from 34 cents an hour to about 26 cents an hour.
“This kind of proposal is dead on arrival,” said Colin Yost, the general counsel at RevoluSun, a Honolulu based solar company. “This is the beginning of the process and we don’t think it will be accepted.”
“It’s almost like, why did they get their PV system?” said Jeff Lum of Alternate Energy. “Now their base charge is almost the same as what their electric bill was (before installing solar).”
HECO’s new goal is to achieve 65% renewable by 2030, a step up from their original 40% plan. The PUC will hold a hearing on whether or not to approve all or any part of the new proposal.
Marco Manglesdor, the president of Hilo-based company ProVision Solar has thought the proposal to be fair. “I think it is reasonable to have a discussion about lowering the (solar) incentive,” Mangelsdorf said. “I think it is probably about time there is to be more equitable cost sharing.”
“For existing PV customers, we think what makes sense is allowing them to be ‘grandfathered’ in under the existing program they signed up under, but possibly transitioning to a new PV rate
structure at some point in the future,” said Cynthia Lin Sugiyama of HECO spokesperson.
The plan would cover each of HECO’s three companies: Hawaiian Electric on Oahu, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light Co. on Hawaii island.
One of the key point of HECO’s proposal is the use of LNG, which they hope to utilize by 2017. HECO expects to bring in containerized LNG in 2017 and hopes to convert that to bulk in 2022.
The switch to LNG has left some concerned that it would leave the state dependent on fossil fuels instead of moving Hawaii to developing renewable resources, as well as the potential for LNG’s price to rise.
“There is talk that LNG is a bridge fuel, but the question is, ‘Once you bring it here, are we stuck with it forever?'” said Henry Curtis, director of Life of the Land. “It’s just not clear whether LNG is the right way to go.”
“HECO is really banking heavily on switching fuels to LNG,” said Isaac Moriwake, an attorney of Earthjustice. “So, a lot of the cost savings depend on a roll of the dice that LNG is going to be a lot cheaper than what we have already. Under some analysis, the prices could really track the cost what we have already. So, we are just out of the frying pan and into the fire in terms of fuel costs and our dependence on imported fuels. The customers are going to bear the risks and eat the costs.”
The HECO plan, however, did not answer one of the key questions for Hawaii’s solar industry, which is how the new proposal will help customers who have been waiting, some as much as eight months, for HECO to approve their solar rooftop projects.
“My principal interest is what if anything is going to be done or implemented in changes that will allow more PV in the near term,” Mangelsdorf said.
“Nearly tripling over 16 years is about a 7 percent increase each year. That is very meager compared to the very strong growth we are seeing in the last five years,” Moriwake said. “It’s far from clear whether 7 percent a year is going to sustain a vibrant solar industry and allow customers to take control of their energy future.”
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