Solar installers flee Hawaii as interconnection queue backs up
- As thousands of would-be owners of residential solar are waiting for Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) interconnection approvals, about 3,000 solar installers have moved out of the business due to a 50% drop in permits.
- HECO is struggling to manage a grid with many circuits over 100% of minimum daytime load. In February 2014 on the Big Island, the utility says, 10% of its circuits hit unstable levels.
- HECO's attempt to manage the grid by slowing installations is expected to decrease installations 22% below 2013 levels, from 83 megawatts to 65 megawatts. Installed capacity in 2015 is expected to drop under 50 megawatts.
Hawaii’s rooftop solar industry doubled installations every year from 2008 to 2012, leading to today’s high concentrations of solar compared to other states. To respond to the rapid growth, HECO is pioneering an understanding how much variable generation the grid can handle.
Solar advocates and lawmakers have accused HECO of failing to prepare the grid for solar’s growth. After its first plan was rejected by regulators, the utility is proceeding with major reforms that, if approved, would streamline residential solar permitting and interconnection, reform net metering, and establish integration standards implementing advanced inverters and more capable circuits, all leading to a tripling of distributed solar by 2030.
Regulators rejected HECO’s first integrated resource plan as "fundamentally flawed” and demanded more renewables, distributed generation, solar, storage, and demand response, which led to HECO’s August plan. The new plan calls for a new monthly fee for all customers to cover grid costs and a fee for net metered customers who sell solar electricity into the grid. HECO said the second fee protects non-solar customers; solar advocates say half of rooftop solar's value proposition could be lost.