Is variable pricing the way out of Hawaii’s solar wars?
There is a simple way to resolve the solar war in Hawaii and all the stakeholders in the struggle have called for it in one way or another.
The fight is over what solar owners will be paid for the electricity their systems send to the grid. Most agree today’s net energy metering (NEM), which remunerates at the retail electricity rate, no longer works with solar on 12% of the state’s roofs, penetration increasing rapidly, and residents paying the nation’s highest electric rates.
The solar wars began when advocates clamored for the state’s electric utilities to increase the speed of the transition to distributed solar and the utilities pushed back, arguing for a change in the NEM policy.
The urgency of settling the struggle was highlighted by Moody’s recent downgrading of Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI), parent of the state’s dominant electricity providers, from stable to negative.
Not only that, but recent subpoenas of NextEra Energy CEO Jim Robo and HEI CEO Connie Lau by the state’s Consumer Advocate (CA) illustrate a growing apprehension in the state that the proposed $4.3 billion NextEra-HEI merger will lead to common ground on solar issues.
The simple solution? Restructure rates so that everybody pays and gets paid the right price for the electricity they buy and sell, a new study suggests.
That common ground is hinted at in the opposing stakeholders’ recent filings in the Hawaii PUC’s Distributed Energy Resources (DER) docket. Both the Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO) — the state’s biggest electric utility — and the Joint Parties — representing the solar industry, environmental advocates, and indigenous Hawaiians — agreed a new rate structure is key.