HECO streamlines solar power installation requirements


HECO SolarIt will now be faster and simpler for many residential and some small commercial customers to receive approval for on-site solar photovoltaic installations without worrying about the need for a possible interconnection study, Hawaiian Electric announced today.

As of October 1, most residential and some commercial customers of Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light Company can install certified single-phase PV systems up to 10 kW on single-phase transformers and participate in Net Energy Metering (NEM) with no interconnection study.

In addition, any customer of the three companies who paid for an interconnection study and system upgrades to install a 10 kW or smaller single-phase PV system will be refunded the cost of the study and any upgrades.

“To help our customers cope with high electricity bills due to high fuel costs, we promised we would find ways to encourage them to install more solar,” said Colton Ching, Hawaiian Electric vice president for system operation & planning. “The last quarter of each year is the busiest for PV installations. This change should make the move to PV for many customers simpler and faster.

“Every year since 2008, customer-sited PV has at least doubled over the year before and we’re on course for the same in 2012. Operating experience with some of the highest PV penetration in the nation on our companies’ grids has made this new approach possible. This experience, coupled with technical studies conducted with other experts, gives us confidence that we can make this change and still ensure reliable service for our customers,” Ching said.

“This is a step in the right direction and the timing could not be better,” said Brad Albert, co-owner of Rising Sun Solar on Maui and founder of the Hawaii PV Coalition. “We enjoy a very good working relationship with the utilities, and appreciate their continued support for renewable energy. This shows they are listening to the concerns of their customers and the solar industry.”

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council, a national non-profit that monitors renewable energy progress and collects data for the federal government, also applauded the move.

“The Interstate Renewable Energy Council views this is a significant and positive step that will help residential and small commercial customers maintain the ability to efficiently and cost-effectively interconnect PV on the Hawaiian Islands,” said Kevin Fox, a spokesman for the organization. “IREC believes this announcement helps demonstrate a commitment of the Hawaiian Electric Companies to facilitate customer installations of PV systems and other small renewable generators.”

A customer, or contractor on customer’s behalf, must still provide to the utility a signed NEM application with all supporting paperwork before installing the PV system and the county building permit must be closed before the NEM agreement can be finalized for the customer to begin receiving full retail credit for all excess renewable electricity sent to the grid in the next billing cycle.

For single-phase 10 kW or smaller systems, the new checkpoint before a possible interconnection study may be needed will be 75% of the minimum daytime electrical load. This 75% checkpoint will allow more PV installations without interconnection studies than the previous 50% of minimum load threshold for small installations set last November by the Public Utilities Commission. The new standard will increase the capacity for added PV without further interconnection studies on the majority of circuits in the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ service territories.

On a few circuits, an interconnection study may still be needed because a high level of intermittent renewable energy like PV on a neighborhood circuit can result in service disruptions and safety hazards. The study can determine what upgrades are needed to ensure that safe, reliable service and power quality is maintained for all customers on that circuit, whether they have PV or not.

For larger NEM installations, as well as larger Feed-in Tariff or Standard Interconnection Agreement installations, the threshold for possible interconnection study will remain at 15% of peak or 50% of the daily minimum load to ensure grid reliability as required by the Public Utilities Commission rules (Rule 14-H).

To help customers be knowledgeable PV consumers, Hawaiian Electric has developed a new and growing online Solar Resource Center at goingsolar.heco.com with information on choosing a contractor, financing the installation, siting and sizing PV on their roof or property and more.

Further, Hawaiian Electric continues to encourage customers to consider adding solar water heating to reduce their electricity use. Many customers who may not otherwise be able to take advantage of PV can enjoy the money-saving benefits of solar water heating. The Public Utilities Commission is still reviewing Hawaiian Electric’s proposal to allow customers, including renters, to add solar water heating on roof-tops with no money upfront though an on-bill financing program.

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