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Hawaii Axes Net Metering as PV Surges

— November 11, 2015

While most utilities are just beginning to adapt to the challenges presented by large-scale solar integration, the state of Hawaii has been at the forefront of this issue for some time. Hawaii is in the midst of a residential solar revolution, and with PV now sitting atop 12% of rooftops in the state, it has the highest PV penetration rate in the nation. While this presents an array of benefits, utilities are also being confronted with increased costs and decreased revenue streams. As these challenges and opportunities continue to grow, Hawaii may present itself as a case study in adaptive solar policy.

Earlier this month, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (HPUC) issued a ruling that closed Hawaii Electric Companies’ (HECO) net metering program to new applicants. Current customers and those awaiting approval are still eligible for the program, while new customers will be offered alternatives in the form of a grid-supply or self-supply system. A grid-supply system operates essentially as a discounted net metering rate, while the self-supply system is intended for residences that will consume all of their solar electricity and thus will receive an expedited interconnection review. The HPUC also ruled that HECO companies must pursue a time-of-use (TOU) tariff that would allow for variable electricity pricing. TOU pricing offers advantages to both utilities and consumers alike as it provides a financial incentive for customers to shift their energy consumption patterns, and in turn alleviates pressure on the grid.

Hawaii as a Template

This ruling has received mixed reviews across the industry. While some solar proponents have criticized the decision—including the Hawaii Solar Energy Association—others, such as the Solar Energy Industry Association, have highlighted the uniquely high penetration rate in Hawaii as warranting rate changes. As more homes install PV, utilities are left with a dwindling customer base to support their operations costs. According to HECO, $53 million in operations and maintenance costs were shifted to non-solar consumers in 2014. More of these policy changes should be expected as solar and other renewables move from small-scale toward large-scale integration. Policy incentives that were aimed at kick-starting these industries will likely receive pushback as renewables become more competitive in the marketplace. In the future, Hawaii may become the template for other states as they adapt to a more renewable energy based infrastructure.

 

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