By ERIN MILLER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Hawaii Electric Light Co. customers looking to install solar panels on their homes may no longer have to pay for an interconnection study.
Hawaiian Electric Industries, HELCO’s parent company, announced the change Friday as one step toward making it easier and less expensive for customers on the Big Island, Oahu and Maui to install rooftop photovoltaic systems generating 10 kilowatts or less.
The change doesn’t mean a customer won’t have to pay for equipment upgrades, HELCO Engineering Manager Kevin Waltjen said. And customers on circuits for which HELCO officials don’t have good comparisons may still need the interconnection study. The studies evaluate the impact a photovoltaic system tying into the local HELCO circuit can have on the circuit and other circuit users.
If photovoltaic systems on a particular circuit generate too much electricity, for example, that could create an over-voltage situation, Administrative Manager Rhea Lee said.
“It could cause problems not just for the photovoltaic customer, but also any customer connected to the circuit the photovoltaic customer is connected to,” Lee said. “I could have damage in my home, even if I don’t have photovoltaic in my home.”
The interconnection study has been the source of frustration for a number of West Hawaii residents trying to install photovoltaic panels at home. Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, Ka‘u, has talked about the issue frequently. He was pleased Friday to learn HELCO was considering getting rid of the studies.
“That policy change would be a positive game changer on the Big Island,” Green said. “The fear of large costs up front has dissuaded people (from installing solar power). We will probably get much, much better implementation of the program. I always thought it was burdensome to do that study.”
Waltjen said as HELCO and HEI conducted more of the studies, officials saw some circuits with the same issues and same solutions. In those cases, new photovoltaic customers may not need to do the studies, but equipment upgrades, such as grounding transformers, may still need to be installed.
Solar installations in Hawaii have doubled yearly since 2008, HEI officials said. Statewide, 32,000 photovoltaic systems have been installed, creating a capacity of more than 240 megawatts, allowing Hawaii to lead the country in solar watts per customer, officials said.
Hawaii Island customers looking to install photovoltaic should contact HELCO at 969-0358 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, providing a name, address and proposed solar power system size.
Email Erin Miller at email@example.com.