Hawaiian Electric proposes community solar pilot project

Release Date: 7/15/2015

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HONOLULU, July 15, 2015 - Hawaiian Electric Company has proposed a community solar pilot program in a filing with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. If the PUC approves the pilot, about 50 Oahu utility customers will have the opportunity to enjoy many benefits of solar without putting solar panels on their roofs. Participating customers will be able to significantly reduce their monthly electric bills with credit for electricity generated by a community solar project.

"We believe customers should have options. Customers who don't have access to rooftop solar or just don't want to install panels on their roofs will be able enjoy many of the same benefits as those with rooftop solar," said Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric vice president for corporate planning and business development.

"Community solar will be flexible, low-risk and hassle free. Participants won't have to worry about the integrity of their roofs, ongoing maintenance or removal at the end of the panels' useful life. They will be able to leave the program whenever they like. And if they move, the community solar credit goes with them as long as they have a Hawaiian Electric account. In addition, participants can feel good about helping to provide their friends and neighbors with low-cost, clean energy."

A typical residential customer who now uses an average of 500 kWh of electricity a month and who purchases the largest available community solar pilot share will pay an upfront cost of $5,711 plus a $200 enrollment fee. Each month, this customer will receive credit for a share of the electricity output of the community solar facility and pay a small maintenance fee, in total reducing the customer's electric bill by about 45 percent, at current rates.

The pilot will continue up to 17 years, but participants may leave the program at any time. Solar electric output varies from month-to-month so, to reduce risk for pilot participants, Hawaiian Electric will guarantee 80 percent of the expected annual bill reduction.

The amount of the solar credit, subject to PUC approval, will be based on the current fair market rate for utility-scale solar power. This ensures that participants are credited fairly for the solar power generated and non-participants do not pay a premium for the low-cost solar power produced for the grid.

"Hawaiian Electric's proposed community solar project is another example of the new programs and business models that utilities across the country are creating to meet their customers' demand for clean energy," said Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA). "The Hawaii market is already recognized as a test ground for innovation and cross-industry collaboration in residential solar, and this project will hopefully provide still more options for community solar that other utilities and communities can follow."

To gain experience with community solar as quickly as possible, Hawaiian Electric proposes to use the combined 260 kilowatts of existing solar capacity at Waiau and Campbell Industrial Park power plants for the pilot. This community solar pilot project will not affect the ability of customers to obtain approval to interconnect rooftop solar systems.

Hawaiian Electric will not profit from community solar. As these assets are used for community solar, Hawaiian Electric will remove them from calculation of the electric rates customers pay, thus reducing revenues. Further, Hawaiian Electric will subsidize many costs of the pilot to learn about implementing expanded options for its customers.

The pilot project will provide insight into customers' experience and the administration of the programs that can help Hawaiian Electric design and facilitate expanded programs under the Community-Based Renewable Energy Tariff to be filed on Oct. 1, 2015. To further inform the design of this tariff, Hawaiian Electric has begun meetings with representatives of the renewable energy industry, environmental advocates, and State Energy Office.

More information is available online at hawaiianelectric.com/communitysolar. If the PUC approves the pilot, Hawaiian Electric will announce how customers who wish to participate in the pilot can apply.

"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," Kimura said. "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."

The Hawaiian Electric Companies are upgrading their electric grids to accept three times today's amount of distributed energy resources over coming years, including rooftop and community-based solar projects.