Oahu residents who can’t have rooftop solar installed on their home may soon be able to reap solar benefits due to HECO’s recent proposal for a community solar pilot project.
In June, a bill was passed to make renewable energy benefits more accessible to a greater number of Hawaii residents. “As of March 2015, there are about 56,000 PV solar systems on rooftops. These folks are saving tremendously on their electricity bills. That’s great, but what about the 44 percent of Hawaii residents who don’t own their homes? And those without roof space?” said Sen. Mike Gabbard, co-author of the community solar bill.
Under SB1050, electric utilities in Hawaii are required to establish a community-based renewable energy program, with a deadline to send a proposal to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) by October 1, 2015.
On July 15, Hawaiian Electric Company proposed a pilot community solar program that would provide about 50 Oahu utility customers the opportunity to take advantage of a lower energy bill without having to install a rooftop solar system.
If the plan is approved, the average residential customer who uses 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month and buys the largest available community solar share will pay $5,711 upfront along with a $200 enrollment fee and a small monthly maintenance fee. Each month, this customer will receive a credit, based on the current fair market rate for utility-scale solar power, resulting in a 45 percent bill reduction (with current rates). As an incentive, HECO will guarantee an 80% reduction in participating customers’ annual electric bill.
The community solar pilot program will run for up to 17 years, but participants may choose to leave the program at any time. If a customer moves, the community solar credit continues as long as they still have a Hawaiian Electric account.
To get the pilot running as soon as it is approved by the PUC, HECO plans to use 260 kilowatts of existing combined solar capacity from Waiau and Campbell Industrial Park power plants. Hawaiian Electric will remove the power plants from the calculation of electric rates that all customers pay and will subsidize many costs associated with the pilot as part of the learning experience.
“Large-scale community solar would offer value to all customers through its operational efficiency and our ability to monitor and dispatch solar generation for safe and reliable service. Community solar will be an important part of our transformation to expand options for customers, achieve 65 percent renewables by 2030 and lower costs for all customers through equitable rate design and low-cost renewable resources,” said Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric vice president for corporate planning and business development.
HECO is upgrading their electric grids to accept triple the amount of distributed energy resources over coming years, including rooftop and community-based solar projects. Community solar will help to keep some of the $3-5 billion Hawaii spends every year on fossil fuels within the state. In addition, the community solar pilot program will not impact customers’ ability to gain approval for the interconnection of rooftop solar systems. If the PUC approves the pilot, Hawaiian Electric will announce how customers who wish to participate in the pilot can apply. For more information, visit hawaiianelectric.com/communitysolar.