Blue Planet: Utilities’ community solar proposal disappointing

The nonprofit says that the proposed program fails to live up to lawmakers’ vision for dramatically expanding access to clean energy in Hawaii; stakeholders intend to submit a revised proposal.

News Report
Hawaii Independent Staff

Above: A community solar project in Berkeley, California | Wikimedia

As mandated by Act 100, signed by Governor David Ige in June 2015, Hawaii’s utilities, today, filed their version of a proposed program for community solar. Sometimes called “community solar gardens” or “shared renewables,” the promise of community solar is that it can make clean power more accessible for Hawaii residents that don’t have their own roof, such as renters and condo dwellers, as well as for businesses and nonprofits.

“Communities in Hawaii have waited a long time for this,” said Jeff Mikulina, Executive Director of the Blue Planet Foundation. “Community solar has sprouted up all around the country. Blue Planet first proposed this to the Hawaii legislature three years ago, but it met resistance from the utilities. We applaud the utilities for finally taking this step and submitting today’s proposal as the law required but, unfortunately, the utilities’ vision falls short of meeting the law’s goal of dramatically expanding access to clean power.”

Blue Planet Foundation and other local clean energy experts have worked with community solar experts from other parts of the country to identify the key elements for a successful program. One key is to create a system that puts all utility customers on equal footing in terms of access to solar power, and that welcomes innovative new business and social models for sharing that power. In contrast, the new utility proposal is more limited—capped at no more than 32 megawatts over the next few years, for the whole state. This amounts to only about 10 percent of the rooftop solar capacity that has already been installed over the past few years.

The utility proposal also treats community solar customers very differently from rooftop solar customers, crediting them about half of what current rooftop solar customers are credited for the same amount of power. In addition, Blue Planet says the utility proposal will make community innovation virtually impossible because it pushes the utility’s own business model onto everyone else.

Blue Planet intends to work with other clean energy stakeholders to revise the proposal in the hope that they can still quickly make community solar available to residents and businesses around the state.

“We hope that the utilities and Public Utilities Commission will see the logic in taking lessons from community solar policies in other states,” said Mikulina. “For example, New York recently ordered its utilities to implement community solar in a way that treats community solar customers the same as rooftop solar customers, and that promotes “innovation zones” to target low-income communities. Hawaii deserves the same focus on innovation, and Act 100 demands it.”