As the sun set over downtown Honolulu on Monday, mourners gathered for an intimate candlelight vigil. The group -- concerned residents mingled with members of Hawaii's Sierra Club -- sang songs and passed around a "Get Well Soon" card as a single solar panel lay on a stretcher, "hooked up" to life support. Behind them stood the offices of the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), the largest utility supplier in the state.
The demonstrators were mourning solar power. Once heralded as a shining model for the rest of the country, Hawaii's solar industry has stalled because of HECO's strict regulations on installations, the protestors said.
"We have a solar panel on a stretcher ... to represent how the industry is doing," Sierra Club member Caitlin Pomerantz told local news outlet KITV. "We know that solar has been struggling."
One protestor, Will Walker, said he installed solar panels on his roof eight months ago. According to KITV, he "was told that HECO was looking into hooking them to the energy grid," but so far nothing has happened.
"I don't have faith in HECO anymore doing the right thing on their own," Walker said. "I think it will take the people pushing them in the right direction."
In April, the state's Public Utilities Commission gave HECO 120 days to outline and submit plans that would hopefully answer these and other concerns. The company's outline, which was officially filed with the Commission on Tuesday, promised to "nearly triple" the amount of solar power the company provides, have 65 percent of its energy come from renewable sources, lower costs by 20 percent and create a state-of-the-art grid for these new options.
"A clear, open planning process will let customers and solar contractors know how much more solar can be added each year," HECO said in a statement. "Grid enhancements will make possible increased integration of solar power. And optimized control settings for solar equipment will improve safety and reduce the risk of power outages."
But critics of HECO's ambitious plan have their doubts.
“My initial thought," Colin Yost of Hawaii-based solar company RevoluSun told area news station KHON2, "is that there are parts that are encouraging and parts that are clearly going to change and not be accepted by the [Public Utilities Commission]. ... They’ve also talked about increasing the charge for customers with solar that have to pay that increase. We think that is dead on arrival."
The Commission is currently in the process of reviewing HECO's plans and will decide whether or not they are aligned with the state's energy goals.
Let's just hope HECO followed doctor's orders.