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Published on April 27th, 2014 | by The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC)


New Poll Shows Hawaiian Electric (HECO) Is Slowing Rooftop Solar

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April 27th, 2014 by
A new opinion poll reveals that Hawaiian Electric (HECO) has a significant public image problem: an overwhelming number of Hawaii residents (94%) support more rooftop solar, and 90% believe that HECO is slowing rooftop solar to protect its profits.

The poll confirms that most residents are very familiar with and supportive of rooftop solar; a third have family members with solar, and more than half have neighbors with solar. Hawaii residents are accustomed to seeing rooftop solar in their communities and they want to see even more of it in the future.

The poll was conducted by Honolulu-based polling firm SMS and commissioned by The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), an organization that represents the majority of rooftop solar installations in the United States, including more than seven thousand projects in Hawaii.

“While it should be a point of pride that Hawaii has the highest solar per capita in the country, it shouldn’t give us any reason to slow down,” said Jon Yoshimura, a Hawaii spokesperson for TASC. “The people of Hawaii clearly want and expect more rooftop solar, and are looking to both HECO and to policymakers to advance policies that help increase access for homes and businesses.”

Responses revealed that Hawaii residents are adopting solar not only to save money, but also to drive energy independence for the state. Respondents also accurately identified oil dependence and lack of competition in the utility sector as top reasons driving utility rates.

“Hawaii’s energy landscape is rapidly changing and we need to adopt new policies and business models that support the public’s desire to produce their own clean, homegrown energy,” Yoshimura continued.

Less than half of those surveyed have a favorable opinion of HECO, while 95% have a favorable view of solar power companies. When respondents were informed that the number of solar permits just hit a two year low on Oahu, half said their opinion of HECO declined even further. In short, HECO’s public image is in danger if the utility continues to fall short of public expectations for rooftop solar.

“I decided to go solar for environmental and financial reasons​. I was delayed for months — many peoples’ interconnection approvals are delayed for years by​ the utility as a stalling tactic,” said Nancy Robberson, retired schoolteacher from Kula,​ Hawaii. “Hawaiian Electric and its subsidiaries should not get in the way of more solar here​. Harnessing the sun’s power should be an ​inalienable right for all.”

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About the Author

advocates for maintaining successful distributed solar energy policies, such as retail net metering, throughout the United States. Retail net metering (NEM) provides fair credit to residents, businesses, churches, schools, and other public agencies when their solar systems export excess energy to the grid. The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) was formed on the belief that anyone should have the option to switch from utility power to distributed solar power, and realize the financial benefits therein. The rooftop solar market has been largely driven by Americans’ desire to assert control over their electric bills, a trend that should be encouraged.

  • Burnerjack

    The first statement says much: “New opinion poll…” An opinion poll is somehow a valid substitute for verifiable, fact based reporting?
    If the premise of the story is true, report it. Show the facts. While this may be well intentioned, it can only fuel those that wish to undermine RE credibility.
    Off topic, but related, if there was ever a promising location for geothermal energy, surely Hawaii is it. Following the proven model in Norway should remove much conjecture as well as engineering costs.

    • mds

      I can’t remember, is that true on all the Hawaiian Islands, or just the Big Island?
      A lot of earthquakes in volcanically active areas and lava flows, including occasional new ones, in Hawaii. Definitely is part of the mix, but solar needs to be a large part.
      What is the current cost of geothermal compared to solar in Hawaii?
      Geothermal does have the advantage of providing 24/7 power.

    • Burnerjack

      Once again, my geographical error. Please substitute Iceland for Norway. It’ll make WAY more sense (I hope).

      • mds

        Yes, makes more sense. Still Iceland is one big island. Hawaii is several small ones. I’m not sure, but I think the Big Island is the only one with a really good geothermal resource. They are already using this some. There has been talk of linking the Hawaiian Islands electrically, but I don’t know where that is. It is not cheap or easy. I think it’s deep with lots of corral and rock. Iceland has many geothermal sites with none of the inter-island connection issues.
        Sorry for my late response.

  • Steve Baker
  • Shiggity

    Hawaii is probably the first place where we’re going to see the utility death spiral effect.

  • JamesWimberley

    Bad headline. Opinion polls are evidence of people’s opinions, not the underlying facts. (See climate change and evolution, in the US at any rate). A poll of actual and would-be solar owners in Hawaii about their experience of Hawaiian Electric’s dealings with their applications would be evidence.

    • Omega Centauri

      To be fair to the authors, I thought it was clearly stated that this was about public opinion within Hawaii, and not about actual guilt/innocence.

      • Burnerjack

        Read the headline again. “poll” is there, to be sure, but the rest of the headline is presented as fact. While Steven F delivers much better reporting of purported facts, the article itself does not.

    • Peter Gray

      I think James has a good point. I also started reading the article expecting to find evidence rather than just opinion, and I think there’s minor, probably inadvertent deception. The headline could be fixed by putting “residents believe” just before “Hawaiian.”

    • mds

      Shiggity’s comment above:
      “In Hawaii you generally wait 2-3+ months to get ‘approved’. This process takes under 24 hours in Germany.”
      There is also the fact that HECO has been “studying” this “problem” for months and does not seem to be making any progress toward a solution.
      That is what is forming their opinions. I think in this case their opinions are derived from experiencing the facts of the situation. A good stand-in for the same.

  • Omega Centauri

    Is this reputation deserved though? There are legitimate technical issues caused by high local levels of distributed solar which have to be accounted for. There was discussion over at Greentech media a few months back about this issue. HECO at least makes a case that they are working through these issues on a case by case basis, and are not anti-solar. Of course there could be gradations of resistance buried underneath. From delying permits on purpose to deliberatly slow uptake, through excessive caution about the legitimate technical concerns, to doing all they can do given finite resources.

    In a very real sense, HECO is a test laboratory for the rest of the US utility industry. They are the first one to encounter this issue at scale, and will have to develop methods for handling it. Hopefully this process will go smoother for other US utility districts bacause of the experience gained.

    • Shiggity

      In Hawaii you generally wait 2-3+ months to get ‘approved’. This process takes under 24 hours in Germany.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I don’t understand why many people in Hawaii haven’t already gone partially off the grid.

        One could set up a panels/battery system and run most of your house off it. Keep the “porch light” on the grid. Use some minimal amount so you’re not at zero every month. (Lots of houses must sit empty a lot of the time.)

        Have a battery charger plugged into the grid for when you need a top up.

        • mds

          Yes, that would be would way to skin this utility cat. Tic-toc, it’s a matter of time before it starts happening and when it does HECO will be in the hurt locker. So sorry, they could have seen it coming, they could have help solar power the islands. Sitting there saying “we don’t think the old grid can do this” certainly wouldn’t work for me, if I was one of their customers.
          The cost of electricity was at 33c/kWh to 45c/kWh in Hawaii in September 2011. That is over two years ago. HECO has already had two years to “study” this “problem”.
          Betcha I could fix it.

          • Burnerjack

            Human nature (by extension, corporate nature) not to see what’s coming if you don’t want to.
            33c/ kwh? Wow! wonder what they pay in Norway?!…Just sayin’…

          • mds

            “wonder what they pay in Norway?!…”
            I read that bar graph as 13c/kWh, not bad at all. Lots of hydro. They also have oil/gas resources that they are using to go green for a better future. They have so much hydro that seems like they might make a good pumped-hydro battery for solar/wind in the rest of the EU.
            Probably a lot of wind that far north. Also, a lot of tidal with all those fjords.

          • Burnerjack

            My apologies. I meant to say “Iceland”. They produce 26% of their energy, heat their buildings and hot water through geothermal. My misplaced point was the volcanic activity that enables Iceland’s geothermal bounty may be allow Hawaii the same bounty for the same reason.

          • mds

            No worries. Geothermal already does quite a bit on the Big Island. I don’t remember the numbers. I don’t think all the islands are the same. As you move away from the Big Island they are farther from the Earth’s mantle hot-spot that creates that volcanic activity. The Hawaiian Island chain is created by movement of the Earth’s crust away from that spot.
            Anyway, Yes, geothermal is another good source. I’d speculate that solar will be bigger and more evenly spread across the islands, It is getting very low in cost and can generate power where it is needed, and most cost effective, at the end-of-the-grid.
            Low-cost storage will be the next enabling change for solar in Hawaii. It will be a big and very fast impact. Fits the need well there and the cost margin is already there if your battery is low enough in cost.

      • jeffhre

        Compare Hawaii to Long Island..With solar power, “we can avoid that $100 million investment in transmission lines, distribution lines, in capital infrastructure…”

        That was Vice President of Environmental Affairs Michael Deering of the Long Island Power Authority in a remarkable podcast interview.

    • mds

      “There are legitimate technical issues caused by high local levels of distributed solar which have to be accounted for.”
      Non-sense. It’s been months that they have been “studying” this “problem”. I’m sorry but it is not that tough. Start putting in bi-directionally enabled grid lines and controls for the same, so that solar harvested at the ends of the grid can be re-distributed. Start installing battery stations for diurnal storage of solar, so it can be re-distributed at night. Use existing diesel generators for deep backup only, i.e. when several cloudy days make additional power necessary.
      HECO either does not know what it is doing or they are trying to block solar progress.

      • Steven F

        All AC grids by nature are Bidirectional and have been since Tesla invented the technology utilities use. Once a grid is full the voltage on the grid will rise. Utilities monitor the voltage on the grid and adjust power production to keep the voltage in spec.

        A properly installed solar system will now dump excess power onto the grid if the voltage is above spec.

        • mds

          “All AC grids by nature are Bidirectional and have been since Tesla invented the technology utilities use.”

          Our transformer in the US step down-hill in voltage as they reach out to households from centralized source. You can transmit power the other way, but they aren’t design for that and you can create a localized over-voltage problem, as implied by your corrected statement here:
          “A properly installed solar system will not dump excess power onto the grid if the voltage is above spec.”
          They can be designed/operated differently. We should be able to supply power back to the center of the grid in larger amounts, without creating that localized overvoltage problem. The grid operators could then distribute that power to customers that do not have solar, eg. from Hawaii, hotels without enough roof space for the rooms they provide. Additionally, the grid operators could be building diurnal storage capacity, so they could provide that excess solar power back to everyone at night. In Hawaii this would cut the heck out of their diesel bill for generating electricity and they could lower their electric rates. First the grid operators need to pull their heads out of their heinies and remember they are their to provide the more cost effective solution to the people …and they may need to bone up on their electrical engineering knowledge. Ignorance is actually not always bliss, sometimes it is misery. Change is at hand in Hawaii. Watch.

          • Burnerjack

            I must disagree one one point: the utilities are NOT there” to provide the most cost effective solution to the people.”
            They are there to provide power to their customers while providing the highest profit margin to their investors.
            “Therein lies the rub”, as the saying goes.

            This leaves the utilities adverse to capital expenditures. While lower operating costs, in this case fuel costs would yield higher margins, that’s typically after the write down of new equipment is complete. Investors often deal in quarterly results. See the dilemma? A great many ‘well to do’ investors make such investments due to the tax shelter.
            Very influential people, I suspect.

            What to do? My suggestion: let the customers have free reign as to who they purchase their power from. Competition, TRUE competition hones the marketplace, drives innovation and is ALWAYS consumer friendly.

          • mds

            I understand and agree that many utilities see it that way. I disagree that this is in fact a correct view. They will at some point get re-calibrated. They are supposed to be “regulated businesses” so they provide a fair service to the people.
            You do have a good point. That purpose is going to be corrupted by moneyed influence in some cases (like Australia at the national level right now), however, even in many of these cases it will become cheaper for residences and communities to go fully of the grid to reduce their electricity costs. This will trump the influence of your wealthy investors. It will be interesting to watch this play out in Australia.
            Sorry for late response. Busy.

    • Steven F

      HECO sates that the need study the customer’s proposed solar installation to verify it won’t compromise the grid. such a study would only take a qualified engineer a day or two to do. There is no reason for it to take months or years. Additionally I have not yet seen any report of HECO denying a permit due to the results of a study.

      HECO is simply stalling. Note HECO is not the only electric utility in the state . It is however the largest. HECO is the only one to impose the restrictions. The others are still installing solar.

      More information on the technical issues:

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