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Hawaii Rejects Proposed Ban on Solar Energy

State's largest utility loses skirmish to solar industry group but could still halt feed-in tariff program

By Sara Stroud

Oct 22, 2010

While HECO said curtailment of renewables is sometimes necessary to balance generation and demand given the complexity of reducing output of larger central systems, it acknowledged that it also creates an uncertain revenue stream and can reduce incentives for project developers and investors.

“How do you sell something that has a big black hole on it?” Moriwake asked, referring to the uncertain payback from projects.

The answer to that question may not be revealed for a while, as the state’s solar industry waits to see how developers and investors respond to the new program.

For its part, the PUC acknowledged that the program is a work in progress. With a variety of ways to implement feed-in tariffs, there are “virtually unlimited adjustments that could theoretically be made,” according to the PUC.

The commission determined that the best course of action was to implement the program and make any necessary changes when it reviews the program in two years.

“If done right, this could definitely expand our market and our industry,” Duda said  “But we’re not sure what we’ve got at this point.”

See Also

Hawaiian Utility Fights Solar Industry Over Private Installations

DOE: Big Utilities Can Get Reliable Power from Small Solar PV Arrays

Aloha Oil: Hawaii Targets 70% Renewable Energy by 2030

New Hampshire Utility's Move to Control Green Energy Dollars is Rebuffed

Energy Co's Use Ballot Initiatives, Other Tools to Fight for Continued Market Dominance

Why Isn't the U.S. Embracing Feed-in Tariffs?


"Clarifications" to you article on solar energy in Hawaii

To clarify, the PUC never rejected a proposed moratorium because there was no moratorium proposed.  Instead, the PUC accepted the utility’s proposal that a working group be assembled to address the reliability standards necessary to add more distributed generation so that a moratorium in the future can be avoided.  

 Not even the most ardent proponent of renewable energy, even solar energy, denies that at some point an increase of DG on a circuit can result in reliability problems, for everyone on the circuit including the installer of the new DG and others.  The question is really what that point is, how to know when we are there and how to extend the amount of DG that can be integrated on the circuit and thus on the grid.  

As a utility committed to reaching very aggressive renewable energy goals in just 20 years, Hawaiian Electric has no choice; we must be open to large projects (wind farms, solar farms, biofuel, run-of-river hydro) as well as small-scale distributed generation to reach the goal. While some people like to see this as an either-or “skirmish” between central power and DG or between one technology and another, it is in fact a matter of all-of-the-above.  Hawaiian Electric is, in fact, open to all and we have a proposal before the PUC for a PV Host program which would allow even larger PV installations to be installed by the solar industry.

But we can not abandon our responsibility for reliability.  As you quoted me in the article, when there are reliability problems our customers call the utility, not the solar energy providers who installed the PV, not owner of the property where the PV is located.  And it is the utility with its obligation to serve that faces liabilities if the quality of power is not maintained.  That's a simple fact.

As to curtailment, ironically, it is the larger renewable projects on the transmission circuits – not the small projects on the low-power distribution grid – that are most susceptible to curtailment because they include supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) equipment that allows the utility to curtail them when necessary.  In most cases, small DG is more difficult to curtail.  Their power comes on the grid and power for their facilities is taken off the grid without warning to the system operator.  In the future, smart grid technology should solve some of these problems, but for now they must be managed to insure reliability.  Within the utility industry, Hawaiian Electric – and particularly our subsidiaries on Maui and Hawaii Island  -- are acknowledged as the most experienced leaders in integrating significant percentages of renewable energy on small grids.  


David vs. Goliath

Very nicely done story. It brings into clear view what's in play in the battle between centralized power producers and those who would prefer distributed energy production. I'm part of the latter group. I'm betting that as more and more people do what we just did (we put up a 5.59 kW home solar system in June), the balance of power is going to shift toward local, distributive energy. And, this, of course, is not something the Big Guys -- who control our power production right now -- want.

--Christof Demont-Heinrich
Editor & Founder, SolarChargedDriving.Com

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