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Balance of Power

New rules open way for renewable energy integration.

January 12, 2012
Debra Lordan - Editor/General Manager , The Maui Weekly

I ran across some good news on the Hawai'i Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Website. While we were all recovering from Thanksgiving dinner and beginning our holiday shopping at the end of last November, PUC issued an order that significantly improves Hawai'i's process of connecting renewable technologies to the grid, enabling more rapid adoption of renewable energy and throwing the switch to allow increased distributed renewable generation on island grids.

Before the approved changes, Hawai'i received an "F" for its interconnection policies. After the order, the state will now earn a "B."

For almost two years, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) worked collaboratively with organizations in Hawai'i, including the Blue Planet Foundation, to reform the state's existing Rule 14H.

"The PUC's ruling helps clear the path for households and businesses that want to invest in Hawai'i's clean energy future," said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, a Hawai'i nonprofit committed to ending the use of fossil fuels. "By rejecting unnecessary new costs and hassles for clean power, this decision moves Hawai'i a step closer to energy independence."

The key reasons for Hawai'i's dramatic grade improvement are a bit complicated. Briefly, the PUC ruling effectively raised the threshold from 15 percent to as much as 50 percent of the circuit demand. Supplemental reviews will be conducted by the utility at no charge to the project and be completed within 20 business days.

Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) also wanted to require expensive remote monitoring equipment for renewable systems between 20kW and 250 kW, which cost a minimum of $40,000 per system. The equipment would have enabled the utility the ability to turn off even small residential photovoltaic systems at will. PUC adopted the recommendation that no monitoring equipment will be mandated for projects under 250 kW.

HECO also sought the authority to refuse to interconnect projects based on broad "system level" concerns and ratepayer impact. PUC rejected the utility's request, underscoring that ratepayer impact is an issue that resides under the PUC's decision-making purview, not the utility's.

Essentially, the new ruling removed renewable energy connectivity barriers proposed by HECO, clearing the path to the state's transition to clean energy, so we can focus our efforts on technical improvements to the system to ultimately eliminate limits on the integration of oil-free energy.



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