03/27/2014 11:55 am ET Updated May 27, 2014

HECO Continues to Stall Solar Installations in Hawaii

Last month I posted about lovelorn Hawaii solar customers sending Valentines to HECO. Despite these customers' pleas for solar interconnection, HECO continues to drag its feet. In the game of solar love, that's no way to win over someone's heart.

The Sierra Club's Anthony Aalto has summarized the issue nicely: "In an effort to halt the expansion of residential PV systems, HECO has resorted to claiming that too much rooftop solar is dangerous." Aalto goes on to explain why HECO's claims are not only "a bit rich," but also just flat-out false. As solar adoption grew over the last few years, HECO continued to expand their "limit" for what was considered a "safe" amount of solar on the grid, starting at 50 percent of peak load and moving quickly to 120 percent of peak load. These numbers don't have any technological backup and furthermore, solar systems are designed to shut off before any alleged impacts of grid saturation would arise. As more and more solar is added, there have been no instances of safety issues even as penetration reaches HECO's so-called limits.

The truth, says Aalto, is that HECO is terrified at the thought of losing more customers. It loves its monopoly control over energy generation in Hawaii, and it loves benefiting from that monopoly status. Meanwhile, HECO customers continue to pay higher and higher rates for unsustainable, dirty energy. Can you blame them for wanting to take advantage of energy choice like rooftop solar?

Nationally, solar is more popular with middle income communities than any other group because it makes more financial sense then sticking with a monopoly that can increase rates at any time. In Hawaii, solar popularity is undeniable. According to Aalto, "Opinion polls show that rooftop solar power is more popular than mom and apple pie. Nine out 10 [sic] people in the state think that families and businesses should be encouraged to install rooftop solar." Encouraged, not stalled due to unsubstantiated safety claims.

Oops. Here's a hankie, HECO. Wipe up those crocodile tears and tell us the truth. You simply can't face the fact that your future doesn't lie in energy generation.

The funny thing is, the sooner it faces the truth, the sooner HECO could start preparing for a new kind of future. Aalto lays out some of the possibilities:

"It could invest in grid-scale storage -- say by partnering with the Board of Water Supply to install micro-turbines in water lines and pumping water uphill in the daytime to flow downhill and generate power at night. It could start leasing electric vehicles, or set up battery charging stations, or a chain of on-the-fly battery swapping stations."

Even better, the organizations that are supporting solar are also supporting legislation that would start the planning process for grid modernization. The bill, HB 1943, would take steps towards a new, solar-friendly grid and brighter energy future for Hawaii.