Under Hawaii’s feed-in tariff (FiT), solar developers can qualify to sell electricity generated at a solar installation back to the state’s largest utility, Hawaiian Electric Co.
There’s just one problem. The utility can choose to curtail or impose restrictions on the payments as they see fit, which opponents say invalidates the whole purpose and shows how the incentive program needs to be revised in the island-state.
Renewable energy advocates are now pushing to change the state’s solar incentive scheme to make it easier for project developers.
The same incentive program that’s driven a lot of growth in the solar industry in Germany and is growing solar in Ontario, Canada, doesn’t really pack the punch in Hawaii.
“What was a transformative policy in Germany and elsewhere has really been a flop here,” said Jeffery Mikulina Executive director of Hawaiian clean energy advocacy organization Blue Planet Foundation.
The organization was for the policy. Under the policy, commercial solar electric producers can qualify for a FiT rate of about 22 cents per kilowatt hour produced and a set contract for that price for 20 years.
“But the wild card that turned people off is curtailment,” Mikulina said. That clause allows the utility to choose whether or not to purchase the power produced by a solar array.
As such, the policy has made it harder for companies to develop new solar projects.
“It cast uncertainty on projects. They can’t finance it if they’re uncertain that they could sell the power,” Mikulina said.
Then there’s the 15 percent circuit limit.
Hawaiian Electric can require project developers to undergo costly studies to determine whether their system will bring the amount of solar power on circuit above 15 percent, an amount which Hawaiian Electric considers a threshold for reliability and connectivity.
“We think that limit is kind of low. It could run more,” he said. “There are technological fixes to enable more clean energy. We argue those limits are low, and we can add a lot more clean energy to the grid.”
The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission is taking commentary on how to improve solar incentives in Hawaii through Sept. 6, but only on how to improve larger-scale FiT proposals.
Now advocates like Mikulina see this as a chance to change the FiT and other solar policies to encourage more solar development.
“People are lamenting the poor participation in the feed-in tariff to date,” he said. “Since this has been in place for over half a year, folks want to revisit it.”
Image courtesy of NREL.