A new public opinion survey shows that nine out of ten people polled believe Hawaiian Electric Company is slowing down rooftop photovoltaic power installations to protect its profits.
The poll of 405 residents on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii was conducted by SMS Research in Honolulu and commissioned by The Alliance for Solar Choice, which represents several rooftop solar installations in the U.S.
One of the questions asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "HECO is slowing rooftop solar growth to protect its profits." Ninety percent agreed.
"There's no utility that's as unpopular with its own customers as HECO is," said Bryan Miller, TASC president, who was interviewed by phone from San Francisco.
HECO counters that its rates are set by regulators based on how much it costs to provide service to all customers, including those with rooftop photovoltaic systems. It also said money isn't the reason why the installations are slowing down.
"We understand that for our customers, it can be very frustrating to wait, but there's a reason for this," said HECO spokesman Darren Pai. "We want to make sure we can do it in a way that's safe and reliable, and provides benefits for all of our customers."
Late last year, the utility began requiring homeowners to get HECO approval before installing rooftop solar systems. That resulted in waiting lists and a slowdown in installations.
Critics, including the Sierra Club, said HECO should have anticipated the boom in solar installations.
"The rate of solar adoptions has been increasing every year for the past six or seven years, doubling, in fact, every year, so this scenario is eminently foreseeable, and it's something that they should have predicted and acted quicker on," said Robert Harris, executive director of the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club.
"Certainly solar penetration is high in Hawaii compared to other states in the country, and HECO's showing that they're not ready for those changes," said Miller.
"We're working very hard to try to identify these issues and work with our partners in the solar industry and the energy community to come up with these solutions," said Pai.
But was the question a loaded one?
"I think it's a fair questions because perception is reality, right?" said Harris. "If you're fighting perception, then you're losing."