Hawaiian Electric Proposes Pilot Community Solar Program

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For those who can’t, or don’t want to, have a solar PV system installed at their home, community solar programs (sometimes called community solar gardens) can be an effective and affordable way to adopt the use of clean energy at home, while also helping to increase the demand for solar energy. And customers in Oahu, Hawaii, may soon have the option of buying into a local community solar program, thanks to a recent proposal to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) from Hawaiian Electric Company, which aims to create a long-term pilot program.

Announced on July 15th, the proposed community solar program, if approved, will offer the opportunity to about 50 Oahu utility customers, who will be able to experience the benefits of lower electricity bills, while avoiding the standard risks of installing a rooftop solar array. The pilot community solar program has several aims, including the expansion of electricity source options for customers, the further development of cost-effective community solar programs, and the eventual increase in the amount of clean renewable energy being fed into the grid of the Hawaiian islands.

“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.” – Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric VP for corporate planning and business development

According to Hawaiian Electric, participating community solar program customers will be able to “significantly reduce their monthly electric bills” through being credited for the solar electricity generated by the project. The utility claims that the average residential electric customer currently using about 500 kWh per month, and who buys the “largest available community solar pilot share” will pay in $5,711 in upfront costs (plus $200 in enrollment fees), which will reduce their total annual electric bill by about 45% (based on current rates).

The initial pilot program is planned to run for up to 17 years, with participants able to leave the program at any time. Hawaiian Electric acknowledges that solar electric output can vary from month to month, and to reduce the financial risk to participants, the utility is guaranteeing an 80% reduction in participants’ annual electric bill.

According to GTM, this initial pilot project “will provide critical insight” into the administration of community solar programs, and will inform Hawaiian Electric’s future community solar program expansions (said to be coming this fall).

In the interest of speed in getting this community solar program up and running as soon as it’s approved by the PUC, Hawaiian Electric will be using solar electric from the existing combined 260 kW of capacity from Waiau and Campbell Industrial Park power plants for the program. The utility also made a statement that this new community solar program “will not affect the ability of customers to obtain approval” for the interconnection of rooftop solar arrays.

“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. 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.” – Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA)

More information about the proposed Hawaiian Electric community solar program is available here.

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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

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