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Monday, June 9, 2014

Solar Gives Hawaii Utilities A Run For Their Money

At least 10 percent of Hawaiians are now using solar and the number is growing. In this photo, solar panels cover the roof of one of the hotel units at Paniolo Greens in Hawaii. (ShellVacationsHospitality/Flickr)

At least 10 percent of Hawaiians are now using solar and the number is growing. In this photo, solar panels cover the roof of one of the hotel units at Paniolo Greens in Hawaii. (ShellVacationsHospitality/Flickr)

Hawaii has lots of sunshine and also the highest electricity rates in the country. That makes the Hawaiian Islands an attractive place for solar energy.

At least 10 percent of Hawaiians are now using solar and the number is growing. But access to the electrical grid is proving to be problem in some cases. The utility company, which is tasked with connecting rooftop solar installations to their electric grid, has told some residents they can’t connect.

The utility is becoming concerned about solar customers who use little traditional electricity and therefore pay little for access to the grid.

Meantime, Hawaii and other states are grappling with how to convert residents to solar — and who will pay to connect it to the grid — the utilities, residents or the state.

Duane Shimogawa of Pacific Business News joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with details.

Interview Highlights: Duane Shimogawa

On why solar energy is so popular in Hawaii

“Number one, we have some of the highest electricity prices in the country, so automatically, people are looking at other ways to bring those prices down. The second thing is, it’s Hawaii — we’ve got a lot of sunshine throughout the year. And, you know, the third thing is help from the state and our policy makers who have created tax breaks and subsidies. And so you corral those three things together, and you’ve got the perfect storm, although, as you’ve noted, it has led to some issues, especially with integrating to our utilities grid here.”

On the energy savings by Hawaiians who switch to solar

“If you go solar, your bill will drop — you know, whether you have a several hundred dollar [electric] bill, or some bills are in the thousands of dollars range, depends how big of a family you have. The average bill after you go solar, though, is around $15-17, so even if your bill is about a hundred bucks a month, I mean, that’s quite a savings in itself.”

On how the grid infrastructure updates will get paid for

“It’s a tough dilemma, and I think our Public Utilities Commission is, you know, right in the middle of it, you know, in trying to make sure it’s fair. You know, it’s a process that is involved, all the stakeholders, so we can figure out a way, you know, a fair way for the grid improvements to be done. That’s something that we’re currently going through right now, and to, you know, who gets to pay for all those improvements. There are some costs that the utility does pass on to the customers, and just recently, they came out with a bill increase, and that’s specifically for renewable energy improvements, and so that’s starting to happen as well.”


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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