50 Home Community Solar Project To Pilot In Hawaii

Hawaii Electric aims to gain experience of community solar with a proposed 50 home project.
Published: Tue 21 Jul 2015

Community energy projects are an inevitable component of the changing energy market, filling the gap for apartment dwellers and others who lack space or for unaffordability reasons are unable to install their own home generation systems. [Engerati- Can the 'Power' of Community Reshape Britain's Energy Market?]

With Hawaii’s intention to achieve 100% renewables generation by 2045, residential PV will be an important contribution in meeting this goal. With almost 70,000 rooftop PV systems approved to install or interconnect the state is already making significant inroads into this market. Now Hawaiian Electric is proposing in a filing to the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to gain experience with a pilot community solar project, the foundations for which were put in place with a new bill alongside the renewables bill. [Hawaii Looks To 100% Renewables]

“We believe customers should have options,” says Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric vice president for corporate planning and business development. “Customers who don’t have access to rooftop solar or just don’t want to install panels on their roofs will be able enjoy many of the same benefits as those with rooftop solar.”

Around 44% of Hawaii residents don’t own their homes, and many more are without roof space.

Community solar project

Hawaiian Electric is proposing to enrol about 50 Oahu utility customers into the programme, which will continue up to 17 years.

A typical residential customer who now uses an average of 500kWh of electricity a month and who purchases the largest available community solar pilot share will pay an upfront cost of US$5,711 plus a US$200 enrollment fee. Each month, this customer will receive credit for a share of the electricity output of the community solar facility and pay a small maintenance fee, in total reducing their electric bill by about 45%, at current rates. As the solar electric output varies from month-to-month, Hawaiian Electric will guarantee 80% of the expected annual bill reduction.

Participants may leave the program at any time. If they move, the community solar credit goes with them as long as they have a Hawaiian Electric account. This project will also not affect the ability of customers to obtain approval to interconnect rooftop solar systems.

PUC approval

The amount of the solar credit, which will be subject to PUC approval, is to be based on the “current fair market rate” for utility-scale solar power. This is to ensure that participants are credited fairly for the solar power generated and non-participants do not pay a premium for the low-cost solar power produced for the grid.

In order to get the project under way as quickly as possible, Hawaiian Electric proposes to use the combined 260kW of existing solar capacity at Waiau and Campbell Industrial Park power plants for the pilot. As the company will not profit from the community solar these assets will then be removed from calculation of the electric rates customers pay.

The project is expected to provide insight into customers’ experience and the administration of programmes that can help Hawaiian Electric design and facilitate expanded programs under the Community-Based Renewable Energy Tariff to be filed on October 1, 2015.

Tripling residential PV

Last month Hawaiian Electric proposed changes to the PUC aimed to triple the amount of distributed rooftop PV by 2030. These include a new pricing structure for new rooftop PV systems, new options including battery-equipped rooftop photovoltaic systems and streamlining and standardizing PV application processes. A pilot time-of-use rate offer is also proposed 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.