Hawaii is on a path toward 100 per cent renewables, and the Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO) are looking for a plan as to how they will get there. But the utility has found themselves in the same place as many other utilities -- they want to make sure net metering isn't adversely affecting their billing to a point where it will limit the amount of renewables brought on the grid.
HECO filed a proposal with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that they say will enhance customer options for rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems in the state -- but it also looks at how net metering customers are billed. HECO said the proposal's goal is to grow the systems for customers -- which, in turn, should help Hawaii's economy and industries, protect the environment, and lower energy costs for customers.
"We know how much our customers want the benefits of rooftop solar," said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service, in a statement. "We support and expect continued growth of rooftop solar. With levels of solar energy in Hawaii that are 20 times higher than the nationwide average, these proposals provide greater access to rooftop PV while helping ensure the longevity of programs in a way that protects reliability, safety and fairness for all customers."
HECO explained that current Net Energy Metering (NEM) customers would not be included in the new proposal -- it would only apply to new PV systems and only after PUC makes its decision.
"We're supporting a plan that will help us triple the amount of distributed rooftop PV by 2030 and increase renewable energy to 65 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045," Alberts added. "To reach those goals, we will need a diverse portfolio of renewable energy resources and a smart, modern grid."
According to HECO, some of the recommendations under the proposal include:
A new pricing structure for new rooftop PV systems that more fairly shares costs for operating and maintaining the electric grid. Currently, customers with rooftop PV are annually shifting about $53 million in grid operations and maintenance costs to customers who do not have rooftop PV;
Nation-leading technical standards for advanced inverters, which will improve integration of high levels of rooftop PV;
New options for customers, including battery-equipped rooftop photovoltaic systems;
A pilot time-of-use rate to offer customers the opportunity to save money by shifting their energy use to different times of day, particularly when PV panels are most productive;
An improved method of calculating the amount of rooftop PV that can be safely installed without impacting service reliability for other customers;
And streamlined and standardized PV application processes to improve efficiency and provide further transparency of the status of applications.
For rooftop solar PV customers in Oahu, HECO plans to credit at a rate of 18 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for all solar energy sent to the grid -- which is currently valued at around 12 cents per kWh. For Hawaii Island, this would be 22.5 cents per kWh, and the rate for Maui would be 23.1 cents per kWh. Future PV customers on all islands would receive a minimum monthly bill of $25, which is currently $17 on Oahu, $18 on Maui, and $20.50 on Hawaii Island.
"Combined, these changes will reduce the shifting of grid operations and maintenance costs from solar to non-solar customers that occurs under the current program while still offering new PV system owners a significant benefit from their investment," the utility said in a statement. "With these changes, the 'payback' period for new rooftop solar customers would remain very attractive, increasing only about one year compared to the current program."
HECO is not the first utility to fight the net metering battle. In June, Tucson Electric Power (TEP) asked for fair market pricing for excess energy produced from rooftop solar -- including rates that cover TEP's service costs. The utility said this would allow them to expand their solar program.
In May, the Massachusetts Net Metering and Solar Task Force released a report on a decision to raise the 3 percent metering cap in the state. National Grid and Eversource both opposed raising the caps -- but the report said opening more opportunities for solar in the state would help renewable development. NV Energy also dealt with a net metering bill in the legislature back in May -- which gave the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) complete oversight over regulation of net metering in the state. A recent poll found that 70 percent of Nevadans support net metering.
HECO has been working with the PUC to develop the new customer options, but the commission still needs to approve of HECO's proposals.
"It is unrealistic to expect that the high growth in distributed solar PV capacity additions experienced in the 2010-2013 time period can be sustained, in the same technical, economic and policy manner in which it occurred," PUC said in a statement, "particularly when electric energy usage is declining, distribution circuit penetration levels are increasing, system level challenges are emerging and grid fixed costs are increasingly being shifted to non-solar PV customers."
HECO is looking for NEM customers to more fairly share the cost of the grid, since they are not currently paying for any added costs for the energy they supply. The utility explained that "those costs are increasingly shifted from those who have solar to those who do not."
HECO explained that in 2014, NEM customers shifted $53 million to other customers -- up from $38 million in 2013 -- and that number could grow if PUC does not approve their proposals.
"These changes will help reduce the unfair shifting of costs from those with PV to those who don't have PV. Contrary to what some may think, these changes won't increase our profits," Alberts said. "We're working to ensure fair rates for all of our customers while still preserving the opportunities to integrate more renewable energy for Hawaii."
Source: Smart Grid News
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