Hawaii ties its electric utilities’ revenue to performance of key functions

These include service reliability, customer satisfaction and integration of renewable energy sources.

News Report
Hawaii Independent Staff

Today, Governor David Ige signed SB2939 SD2 into law as Act 5, which requires the Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission to create the framework that will tie electric utility revenues to performance metrics. Hawai‘i will be the first state to have performance based ratemaking mechanisms in statute, making it one of the most progressive states for energy policy.

“This is the next logical step in Hawaiʻi’s transition to a clean energy future,” said Marti Townsend, director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. “Performance based rates bring the financial interests of the investor-owned utility in line with the public’s interest in cheaper, cleaner energy for everyone.”

“Performance based ratemaking is where the rubber meets the road for bleeding edge energy policy,” said Will Giese, Hawaii Solar Energy Association Executive Director. “If the 2045 Renewable Portfolio Standard was the vehicle to a clean energy future, then PBR is the engine that will get us there.”

The bill, also known as the Hawai‘i Ratepayer Protection Act, establishes performance metrics that the PUC will consider while establishing performance incentives and penalty mechanisms. They include: affordability of electric rates and customer electric bills; service reliability; customer engagement and satisfaction, including customer options for managing electricity costs; access to utility system information; rapid integration of renewable energy sources; timely execution of competitive procurement.

“The bottom line is that SB2939 is a victory for Hawai‘i’s energy consumers who will see more value for their hard-earned dollars. Through its expertise and oversight, the PUC will ensure that we move aggressively toward our renewable energy and consumer protection goals while maintaining a safe, reliable and resilient electric grid operated by a financially stable utility,” said the governor.

Variations on this bill have been heard at the legislator for over five years, and the PUC recently opened a docket to “investigate the economic and policy issues associated with performance-based regulation.” The preamble to SB2939 specifically references the Hawaii PUC’s “Inclinations on the Future of the Electric Utility” as a guiding document for the language of the bill.

Per the language of SB2939, the Hawaii PUC is required to establish performance incentives and penalty mechanisms by January 1, 2020 that directly tie an electric utility’s “revenues to that utility’s achievement on performance metrics and break the direct link between allowed revenues and investment levels.”

“By aligning the utility’s incentives with the consumer’s incentives, everyone wins,” said Sen. Stanley Chang, who introduced the bill. “Electricity bills will be based on performance: bringing renewable power sources online, upgrading the electric grid, ensuring reliability of the power supply, and even customer satisfaction. That’s good for consumers, good for businesses, good for the environment, good for the state and good for the utilities.”

“This bill aligns the interests of utilities and our communities they serve,” said Rep. Chris Lee, chair of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection. “It is a big win for local consumers who will get improved electric services with more options for innovative renewables and batteries, and it is a responsible step forward helping our utilities transition to a sustainable business model that can survive disruption in the energy market.”

SB2939 was passed unanimously by the Hawai‘i State House and Senate. A diverse group of stakeholders supported the bill, including The Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, Blue Planet Foundation, The Alliance for Solar Choice, Organizing for Action, 350 Hawai‘i, Young Progressives Demanding Action and numerous individuals. The bill goes into effect on July 1, 2018.

“The Legislature has worked hard to establish regulatory policy that will better align electric utility incentives with customer needs and the State’s energy policy,” said Rep. Della Belatti. “The Legislature is confident that the Public Utilities Commission, as already demonstrated through the release of its April 18, 2018 docket related to performance-based regulation, will appropriately incorporate stakeholder input in identifying incentives that make sense and implementing these incentives that will minimize unproductive disruption and not result in unintended consequences. Through this collaborative, deliberative, and balanced process, the State will achieve the necessary update to our regulatory framework that ensures a safe, reliable, and resilient electric grid for all of our residents from our rural, agricultural communities to our most densely, populated urban areas.”

“If you were wondering how we get more renewables, cheaper electric bills and better utility grid reliability, this is it,” said Giese. “This is a landmark piece of energy policy and it is totally in line with the governor’s vision of a clean, sustainable Hawai‘i.”

“We are extremely grateful to Governor Ige for following through on his vision for a clean energy future for Hawaiʻi,” said Townsend. “After reviewing all of the evidence, Governor Ige made the right choice for Hawaiʻi’s ratepayers and environment.”

Making SB2939 law reduces electrical rates for Hawaiʻi residents, empowers the PUC to set strong, well-informed policies and encourages the utility to ensure clean energy for all of Hawaiʻi’s residents.