Hawaii Solar Blog

Haleakala Solar Celebrates Its 40th Year In The Solar Business

Haleakala Solar 40 years in solar business
Haleakala Solar is celebrating its 40th Year in the Solar Business this year with over 14,000 customers statewide. We continue to spearhead the growth of our market by testing and installing new and proven technologies for residential, commercial and government entities. These technologies include batteries (Tesla, Sunverge, Aquion, Sonnen), Solar Hot Water, Solar Air Conditioning, EV Charging Stations, Thermal Pool systems, etc. With that homeowners enjoy the ability to go green, save money and enhance our grid infrastructure while maintaining compliance with Hawaiian Electric’s requirements.

This is important because a lot has changed in the Solar Industry over the past year. The biggest change has been the termination of the popular Net Metering Program with the HECO companies which brought with it many unanswered questions regarding the vitality of the solar market. For those solar companies with narrow product offerings and limited resources, the end is near if not already here.

In 2014 there were nearly 400 solar contractors registered with the State of Hawaii. Over the past 3 years that number has declined to less than 50 of which 80% of those companies are no longer active. That means that over 90% of the companies that sold solar systems to customers in Hawaii do not exist any longer. Either they have gone bankrupt or closed the solar division that they had opened to take financial advantage of the huge business growth of PV. Now they no longer offer solar sales, installation, or service and deleted their phone numbers and websites. When solar customers call, there is nobody there. Haleakala Solar is here to help these homeowners with their orphaned systems. Our full service department is on call seven days a week and is trained to troubleshoot just about any type of solar system out there.

Recently HECO sent out thousands of letters to solar customers who applied for Net Metering. These letters were meant to inform the customer of their option to join the Net Metering program. This option came with a financial burden to “upgrade their neighborhood in order to accept more solar power.” Although it will cost these customers more money to upgrade the Utilities grid, much of the upgrade costs make financial sense in the long term. Many of these customers are now orphaned by their original solar installer and are looking for a team to pick up the ball where the others have left off. Haleakala is poised to enter the picture for these customers.

Haleakala Solar Provides Jobs and Clean Energy To Hawaii

Haleakala Solar Installation

Solar Power World, the leading online and print resource for news and information regarding solar installation, solar development and solar technology, has recognized Haleakala Solar as one of North America’s top solar contractors… in fact, Haleakala Solar came in at 95 out of 500 solar companies in the U.S. and number ONE in the state of Hawaii.

The Top 500 Solar Contractors List of Solar Power World magazine was developed to recognize the work completed by solar contractors across the U.S. and Canada. These companies are helping to grow the economy, provide employment, and offer a choice to electricity customers on how to get their power. “The companies on this year’s list exude solar-business brilliance, and they deserve to be recognized not only for being great companies but also for how their work positively impacts the environment,” said Kathie Zipp, managing editor of Solar Power World.

Haleakala Solar employs well over 160 workers, and has installed over 14,000 solar energy systems in its 40 year history. When the company started in 1977, it grew from a one-man operation installing solar hot water systems, to offering services in a vast array of solar services — solar photovoltaic, energy storage systems (a.k.a. batteries), energy management as well as solar hot water — for residential and also large commercial projects.

Will Hawaii Reach Its 100% Renewable Energy Goal?

Hawaii renewable-energy-goal

The third annual Maui Energy Conference was held on March 16-18 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Hosted by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB), the 2016 conference was attended by more than 300 of the brightest minds in the energy sector. Much of the discussions focused on Hawaii’s renewable energy goal of 100 percent by 2045 and how, or whether, the state will reach this goal.

So far, Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) has reported record-high renewable energy use in 2015 of a combined 23.2 percent for Big Island, Maui County, and Oahu. This represents an increase from 21.3 percent in 2014 and exceeds Hawaii’s 2015 renewable portfolio standard (RPS) goal of 15 percent.

The 2015 RPS was achieved with several renewable energy sources, including waste-to-energy, biomass, geothermal, hydro, wind, biofuels and solar, both utility-scale and customer-sited rooftop systems. Hawaii Island blazed the way with 48.7 percent of customer electricity use coming from renewable resources in 2015. Maui County, including Molokai and Lanai, reported 35.4 percent and Oahu produced 17.2 percent of its electricity from renewables.

Future RPS goals are 30 percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2030, 70 percent by 2040 and 100 percent by 2045. Although Hawaii achieved its 2015 RPS goal with flying colors, the end target of 100 percent by 2045 has some concerned.

Kauai Island Utility Cooperative CEO David Bissell estimates that in order for Kauai to be 100 percent renewable with today’s technologies, it would take three times as many rooftop solar systems, battery storage infrastructure and agricultural land for utility-scale photovoltaics and biomass crops. This equates to 5,000 acres and a $1 billion investment, with debt-service payments of up to $70 million.

Kauai is the only island not served by HECO. KIUC has around 35,000 member customers and is already supplying 40 percent of its demand using renewable energy. In January 2016, KIUC hit a milestone when renewables met an average 77 percent of the island’s energy demand and, during peak solar hours, briefly spiked to 90 percent renewable on four separate days. These achievements are credited to the liberal use of solar power and battery storage. On a normal day, the renewable energy profile on Kauai is 62 percent solar power, 8 percent biomass, and 7 percent hydroelectric.

Bissell pointed out that although Kauai, a rural island of 65,000 residents, could reach the state’s goal within the next 30 years, it’s a different story on the island of Oahu, which is home to nearly one million and the bustling capital city of Honolulu.

“The sheer infrastructure and scope that would be required to go to 100 percent on Oahu is really impossible under today’s technology,” Bissell revealed at the Maui Energy Conference. “There’s just not enough land there. It’s got to come from biofuel or other technology or from other islands.”

“No one is going to get to 100 percent without upending the utility model,” encouraged Bill Ritter Jr., former governor of Colorado and founder and current director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. “It’s absolutely doable. It’s part of what the future of the world needs to look like.”

Boris von Bormann, CEO of sonnenUSA, believes that Hawaii can meet its 100 percent renewable energy goal through storing solar power, and Haleakala Solar Inc. has partnered with sonnen to make this happen.

“At sonnen, we envision a world where clean and affordable energy for all is available. We’re doing it in Germany now, with our sonnenCommunity of households using sonnenBatterie storage with solar, and we see a pathway to a clean energy future in Hawaii thanks to innovative utility tariffs, market adoption of clean technology and key distribution partnerships with local solar installers and contractors,” stated von Bormann.

HECO representatives voiced their support of the 100 percent goal but stayed firm on their intent to use liquefied natural gas as a bridge fuel to get to a 100 percent renewable future. Hawaii Gov. David Ige does not agree with the use of LNG, believing that investments in LNG infrastructure would be better spent on renewable energy projects.

NextEra Energy, the company that has offered to buy Hawaiian Electric Industries for $4.3 billion, was a major sponsor of the conference, however they did not participate on a panel or have any visible representation at the Maui Energy Conference. The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a decision on NextEra’s offer this summer.

“The conference panelists presented many innovative local solutions to bring 100 percent renewable energy to Hawaii in the most efficient way possible, without requiring a Mainland takeover by NextEra,” said Stanley Chang, consultant with Earthjustice.

Because Hawaii is helping to pave the way, the journey to a 100 percent renewable future will not be easy. There will be bumps and roadblocks along the way, complete with differing opinions on the best way to get there. However, it’s safe to agree that, as a renewable energy leader in the country, Hawaii already has so much to be proud of.

Take Advantage of Solar Tax Credits

solar tax credits

Tax policies have played a crucial role in the advancement of renewable energy in the United States. The Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is a 30% federal tax credit available for solar PV and solar water heating systems, has been hailed as the “cornerstone of continued growth of solar energy” by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

History of Federal Tax Credit

The ITC was first implemented from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2007 as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. With unprecedented growth including the amount of solar capacity installed in 2007 being double the capacity installed in 2006, the commercial and residential solar ITC was extended through the end of 2016.

The federal tax subsidy is recognized for stabilizing the solar industry and providing an incentive that has enabled annual solar installation to expand by more than 1,600 percent since the ITC was first applied in 2006.

Current Status of Federal Tax Credit

The solar industry had been preparing for the federal tax credit to expire in 2016, but the 30% credit has been extended until 2019. The credit will then reduce to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, and 10% in 2022.

According to GTM Research, the ITC extension will result in $40 billion in incremental solar investment between 2016 and 2020. “The ITC extension currently written into the omnibus spending bill will result in a 20-gigawatt annual solar market in the U.S. by 2020,” said Shayle Kann, senior VP of GTM Research. “At that rate, more solar will be installed each year than was added to the grid cumulatively through 2014.”

State of Hawaii Tax Credit

In addition to the federal tax credit, Hawaii residents and business owners can take advantage of the state’s renewable energy tax credit, which has existed since 1976.

Hawaii’s tax credit was intended to provide a credit for each solar system installed, but the word “system” acquired new meaning when micro-inverters were successfully introduced into the market in 2008. Due to the structure of the micro-inverter system and unclear wording that could interpret a system according to the number of inverters or connections to the electricity system, homeowners claimed each micro-inverter as a separate system and even installed systems with multiple connections to the electrical grid for no apparent electrical purpose, in order to apply for more than one state tax credit.

To avoid this confusion and stop the abuse of renewable energy credits while still encouraging solar adoption, a law was passed in 2013 that redefines a solar energy system according to its total output capacity, or the amount of kilowatts generated.

The Hawaii state tax credit for PV system installations is currently set at 35%, up to $5,000 per system, on a single family residential property. Solar water heater installations on single family homes also qualify for a 35% tax credit, up to $2,250.

With a sunny climate year-round coupled with among the highest electric rates in the nation, the savings associated with solar energy are attractive enough to justify a solar installation investment, but add the 30% federal and 35% state tax credits in and it’s a no-brainer. Contact Haleakala Solar today to find out about the best solar solution for you.

Hawaiian Electric Companies Propose Time-of-Use Rates For Customers

hawaiian electric proposes time-of-use ratesHawaiian Electric Co. filed proposals seeking to change power rates, encouraging customers to use more energy during off-peak hours when solar power is strongest. One proposal was specifically aimed toward the Hawaii Department of Education, while other rate changes target residential customers and EV owners.

Department of Education
Each of the 240 public schools in HECO territories of Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai, and Lanai would be given the choice of using the new rates, which would vary depending on the time of day.

– From 8am to 4pm (super off-peak hours): About 25 percent less than the recent average effective energy charge
– From 12am to 8am (off-peak hours): A rate equal to the existing energy charge rate
– From 4pm to 12am (on-peak hours): A rate higher than the existing energy charge rate

Although actual savings will depend on how much each school is able to change its use to fit the time-of-use rate periods, compared to 12 months of energy usage ending June 2015, HECO estimates that the Department of Education would have saved about 9 percent on electric bills if the proposed rates been in effect.

“At the Hawaiian Electric Companies, we know the challenges in providing a comfortable learning environment for our students and teachers. There’s been a big push for air conditioning and fans in our public schools so we wanted to find a way to assist in controlling their energy costs as they add this equipment,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president for customer service.

Hawaiian Electric is requesting the PUC to make these rates effective by January 5, 2016 and stay in place for ten years, through four to five of the DOE’s two-year budget cycles, to ensure proper evaluation.

Residential Customers
Voluntary time-of-use rates were also proposed for residential customers of Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light Company. Current residential rates are 24.4 cents per kilowatt hour on Oahu, 30.3 cents per kilowatt hour on Big Island, 26.3 cents per kilowatt hour on Maui, 30.7 cents per kilowatt hour on Molokai, and 32.2 cents per kilowatt hour on Lanai. Based on current fuel prices and other surcharges, if the proposed rates were effective today, they would be as follows:

rate table

Customers with energy storage systems would be able to store lower-priced energy generated by their rooftop PV systems during the day and then use some of that stored power to offset some of their energy needs during the evening peak period, maximizing their investment in their rooftop solar and energy storage systems.

Electric Vehicle Owners
Customers that own an Electric Vehicle would also be given the opportunity to select from the rate that would best suit their needs. EV rate options are as follows:
– A revised “whole house” rate that would include EV charging along with all of the electricity use measured by a single electric meter at a customer’s home
– A revised rate for customers who have a separate electric meter just for charging electric vehicles.
– For both EV rate options, there is a proposed mid-day period of 9am to 3pm, an on-peak period of 3pm to 9pm, and an off-peak period of 9pm to 9am.

Time-of-use proposals were submitted as part of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission’s ongoing review of distributed energy resource programs. Before any of these rates are made available to customers, they must be reviewed and approved by the PUC, with input from the Hawaii Division of Consumer Advocacy and other parties in the distributed energy resources proceeding.

If new rates are approved by the PUC, customers and public schools will be able to choose whether they want to switch to the time-of-use rates or remain with the flat rate.

“We want to give our customers options to help them manage their bills and encourage the use of more low cost renewable energy. Rate options like these can give customers choices and help us collectively achieve our state’s 100 percent renewable portfolio standards goal,” Alberts said.

NEM 2.0

new net metering guidelines

On Monday, October 12th, 2015, the Public Utilities Commission issued Decision & Order 33258 which ended the net energy metering (NEM) program for new Hawaii solar customers. What does this mean for solar customers?

For existing NEM customers and those who submitted applications postmark dated 10/12/15 or earlier, net-metering guidelines will stay the same.

For all others, there are two current options for home solar, Self-Supply and Grid-Supply:

Self-Supply
This option is designed for customers who intend to use all of the electricity produced by their PV systems, and do not need to export excess energy to the grid. Under this policy, limited electricity will be sent back to the grid and no compensation will be given for these exports.

These systems will typically be designed to use energy management and energy storage systems. With these advanced features, these systems will have less impact on the grid and will receive fast-track interconnection review. At this time, there is no cap on the number of Self-Supply systems that may be installed.

Grid-Supply
This option allows solar customers to export electricity back to the grid and provides compensation at the wholesale rate, which varies on each island.

PV customers on Oahu and Big Island would be credited at approximately 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, customers on Maui would be credited at approximately 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, Molokai at approximately 24 cents per kilowatt-hour, and Lanai at approximately 28 cents per kilowatt-hour.

There is a cap of 5MW (equivalent of about 1,000 single family homes) on the total capacity of Grid-Supply systems in Maui County and the same in Hawaii County. City and County of Honolulu has a new grid supply cap of 25MW.

A Third Option
The PUC has also instructed HECO to create “Time-Of-Use” rates within 90 days, which would allow customers to save money by shifting energy usage to the middle of the day to take advantage of lower-cost solar energy.

Time-Of-Use (TOU)
In this system, a tariff would also be available to encourage solar customers to invest in home energy storage systems. This would allow solar users to store solar power generated by their PV systems that could then be fed back into the grid during periods of highest demand (5-9pm).

New Expansion to Current Systems
If you’re thinking about expanding your current solar system, two words, BE CAREFUL. New applications to expand existing NEM systems received after 10/12/2015 will probably not be grandfathered in and the expansion of an existing NEM system may void your previous NEM agreement. Before making plans to expand your current PV system, contact Haleakala Solar to get the full facts and make sure you have all the information necessary to make the best choice for you and your family.

Change of Ownership/Utility Account Holder
One of the great news to come out of the new PUC ruling is that NEM customers that have been grandfathered in are allowed to transfer the existing NEM agreement in the event of an ownership transfer, tenant change or account name change. What does this mean? If you sell your home or change tenants, the new owner, tenant or utility bill account holder will still benefit from the old grandfathered NEM program.

Haleakala Solar Ranked #1 Solar Company in Hawaii

14th Overall Top Solar Company in the Country for Residential Solar and 3rd in the country for Solar Hot Water

Haleakala Solar ranked best solar company in Hawaii

Solar Power World, the industry’s leading source for technology, development and installation news, ranked Haleakala Solar top solar company in Hawaii for residential solar contractors AND solar hot water contractors!

Perhaps even more amazing, Haleakala Solar was ranked 14th overall residential solar contractor in the entire country. For solar hot water we ranked 3rd overall in the entire country. An incredible achievement considering the market sizes of the competition on the mainland.

While the output of many other solar companies in Hawaii decreased over the last year, Haleakala Solar’s output actually increased, a testament to the strength of this company.

thank you

A big mahalo to all the workers, staff and sales consultants of Haleakala Solar who without your dedication, hard work and efforts, this would not have happened!

To see the full listing for top solar residential contractors, click here.

To see the full listing for top solar hot water contractors, click here.

making the world a better place one roof at a time

Maui County Looks Into Alternative Utility Ownership

In anticipation of NextEra Energy’s merger with Hawaiian Electric Industries, Maui County is looking into different options of electricity utility ownership to determine which model would provide the best support for Maui County’s transition into 100% renewable energy smart grids and microgrids. The Request for Proposals (RFP), posted by Mayor Alan Arakawa’s Office of Economic Development on May 5, provides a $30,000 budget and four-month deadline for an analysis which would need to include the following:

  • Preliminary appraisals of how much it would cost to purchase the electric utility in its entirety and in certain parts
  • Benefits of a public power utility and an energy cooperative form of ownership as alternative utility business models
  • A recommendation of the utility structure(s) and ownership option(s) that would best align with Maui’s renewable energy future

“We must look at our options, but to do that and have a constructive conversation about the matter we need more information,” Arakawa said. “This study will provide us that information, and will tell us if it would be best to start our own utility, form a co-op as Kauai did, allow the NextEra deal to go through or some other option. We need to make an informed decision as a community.”

Arakawa and Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho have discussed Kauai’s electric co-op. “We’re open to maybe partnering and sharing some of our processes of hooking up with Kauai as far as extending out to our neighbor islands too,” Carvalho said.

Kauai is the only island that is not part of Hawaiian Electric Industries and has the state’s only electric co-op, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC). KIUC purchased Kauai Electric Company in 2002 for $215 million and currently operates over 32,000 electric accounts. As a non-profit organization that is owned and controlled by the people it serves, KIUC has over 23,000 active member-owners and returned $30 million to members as patronage capital and refunds since the co-op was established.

According to the RFP, the proposed sale of Maui Electric Company to NextEra Energy brings about concerns of whether ratepayers will benefit from the change in ownership, if consumer photovoltaic systems and other sources of distributed energy will be suppressed, and whether the proposed sale will support Maui’s desire to be the “electric utility of the future.”

Maui Electric President Sharon Suzuki responded to the RFP saying that she respects the mayor’s decision to examine alternative utility models and issued the following statement:

“As with other utility services like water and sewer services, ownership is only one aspect to consider when dealing with a critical need such as energy for homes, businesses, and public facilities such as medical care centers – lowering costs and providing energy that’s reliable is expected.

Maui Alternative EnergyWe’ve made significant progress and will continue to move forward on our transformation efforts. Currently, 33% of our energy on Maui comes from renewable sources and more than 10% of our customers have rooftop PV systems, far exceeding the national average of less than one percent.

All of our employees at Maui Electric feel a deep commitment and sense of responsibility to serve Maui County’s energy needs. This has not changed in our 90-plus year history and we remain committed to the community we live and work in.”

The deadline to submit proposals is 4 p.m. on Friday, June 5, 2015. For more information, call the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development at 270-7710.

HSI CEO Jim Whitcomb Interviewed by New York Times

Jim Whitcomb interviewed by New York Times about Hawaii Solar Industry

In a recent article, The New York Times focused on the current state of the solar industry in Hawaii. Taking note of the plight of many people who want to get solar, but find it very difficult due to delays by Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) for approval of their solar applications, the article revealed to the rest of the country what many people in Hawaii already know, solar energy is a hot commodity that is challenging for some to acquire.

Boasting the highest electrical rates in the country, solar photovoltaic (PV) has been a highly cost-efficient alternative to many homeowners in the state. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, roughly 12 percent of residential homes in Hawaii now have PV systems, the highest in the nation.

Haleakala Solar founder and CEO, Jim Whitcomb, who is often refreshingly blunt in his assessment of the state of affairs of solar in Hawaii was quoted with this perspective, “The lumbering big utilities that are so used to taking three months to study this and then six months to do that — what they don’t understand is that things are moving at the speed of business. Like with digital photography — this is inevitable.”

Whitcomb also makes a couple of appearances in a video produced by the Times that accompanied the article. He explains his advocacy of changing the utility company’s business model from energy generation to energy storage. He explains, “Their jobs becomes, store the energy, manage it, move it where it’s needed. Let the public create generation facilities, thereby benefitting everybody”.

To view the full article article and watch the video go here.

Federal Regulators Approve NextEra-HECO Merger

FERCO approves Nextera Hawaiian Electric Merger

First Step Toward Merger – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Has Approved the Sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries to NextEra Energy.

“Approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission represents a significant step toward the completion of our merger,” said Jim Robo, chairman and chief executive officer of NextEra Energy. “Through our partnership, we will apply our combined expertise and resources to deliver significant savings and value to Hawaiian Electric customers. We will continue to work closely with our partners at Hawaiian Electric in pursuing the remaining necessary approvals to complete the merger and begin to deliver the more affordable clean energy future we all want for Hawaiʻi.”

Now only two more steps stand in the way of a completed deal: shareholders will vote on the $4.3 billion acquisition on May 12 at 9:30am and the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must approve the merger.

The deadline for PUC approval is set for the end of August 2015 at the moment, however interveners are arguing that more time is needed to evaluate the merger and asking that the deadline be extended to October 30, which could delay potential completion of the sale until April 15, 2016.

With the highest electric rates in the country, many are concerned that about Hawaii’s energy future. State legislators are currently considering bills designed to increase transparency and require the PUC to ensure that NextEra’s acquisition would still achieve the state’s renewable energy goals and be in the long-term best interest of Hawaii ratepayers.

House Resolution 158 and House Concurrent Resolution 227 were introduced by Rep. Chris Lee of Oahu. “They have a history of opposing competition,” he said. “And what’s more concerning is they have a history of infiltrating politics to get the government to work on their behalf, to benefit the utilities over the people they serve.”

In their written statement, NextEra testified that the resolutions were based on media reports that had either misconstrued or omitted facts. NextEra intends to make “a cleaner, more affordable energy future for Hawaii” and trusts that the PUC does not need bills to be passed to do their job.

Rep. Richard Creagan, D-Naalehu and Kailua-Kona, feels that extra caution is justified, given that residents will feel the affects of this merger for years to come as NextEra can use Hawaii as a testing ground to solve high penetration solar problems before they hit the rest of the nation. “They’re not coming in here to lose money. They’re coming in here to make money,” Creagan said.

In February, Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC), a newly formed nonprofit of business and community leaders, filed a motion with the PUC to intervene in the pending HECO purchase to consider whether public utility ownership, similar to Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), might be a better alternative. HECO filed opposition to HIEC as an intervener, but the Public Utilities Commission decided to allow it.

Marco Mangelsdorf, spokesman and a director of HIEC, said they are not taking a position against the merger but rather want to explore the benefits of local, democratic ownership and control of electric utilities.

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