Hawaii solar industry reports 39% drop in employment after the end of retail net metering

Dive Brief:

  • Following Hawaii's decision last year to end its retail net metering program, 88% of solar companies are reporting job losses, according to a solar advocacy group which monitors clean energy employment in the state.
  • According to the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, solar employment has declined from 1,131 jobs in October before the net metering decision, to 692 in July. In total, 88% of the companies polled reported job losses. 
  • In addition to job losses, the Grid Supply program has already hit its cap in Maui, the group said, and could come to an end as early as August on Oahu if the interim 35 MW cap is not raised.

Dive Insight:

The Hawaii solar industry is hurting, and it could get worse. There is currently a backlog of more than 10,000 approved systems, which companies are slowly working through as the state continues to shed clean energy jobs.

“I feel like I’m watching the sequel to the documentary ‘Who Killed the Electric Car’,” HSEA’s Hajime Alabanza said in a monthly review of the industry. “Local companies and advanced technologies that benefit consumers are being unreasonably suppressed, and the only benefactor of this approach is the monopoly utility.”

According to HSEA, the past six months "unassailably ranks as one of the solar industry’s worst. Employment has gone down significantly and will continue to drop if significant regulatory action is not taken very soon." Since June, the number of energized systems has gone up by 1%. But the group said a large portion are backlogged net metering customers — there are 10,782 NEM applications approved, but not installed. Some of those have been on the books as long as a year.

A Hawaii Circuit Court in January upheld state regulators' decision to replace the net metering program with with a grid-supply and self-supply option. The Alliance for Solar Choice filed a lawsuit, alleging the changes were made with insufficient notice or review, but the judge stood by the state's decision. 

Back in May, a coalition of solar companies warned the caps for the customer grid supply option was closed to being hit in some areas. They called for utilities to raise the caps, but so far, they remain in place with Maui being the first to be hit. 

"It may not be necessary to make any adjustments to the Customer Grid Supply program," HECO spokesperson Darren Pai wrote in an email in May. 

Grid Supply approvals grew by 235 applications, a 16% increase from June, which HSEA said marks three consecutive months of growth. However, the group said the increase is a positive signal but "the current structure of the Grid Supply program indicates that any activity will be short lived."

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