Waianae family waits 5 months for solar power switch, blames HECO & City

Waianae family waits 5 months for solar power switch, blames HECO & City
Published: Jul. 1, 2013 at 9:51 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 2, 2013 at 5:24 AM HST
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Rodlyn Brown
Rodlyn Brown

WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rodlyn Brown had a photovoltaic system installed on her Waianae home in February, but hasn't been able to use it for the last five months.

"There are 21 or 27 panels up there.  They've been sitting there all this time not being able to do the job they should do," described Brown.  "Just collecting dust, that's all."

Since March, the Browns have been paying $240 a month on their solar lease, in addition to their $300 to $400 electric bill.

"You're paying through the nose for the electricity that you shouldn't have to be paying for, because you're paying for solar.  It's totally unfair," explained Brown, whose solar system was turned on today for the first time after HECO set up their new meter.

Photovoltaic customers don't get to immediately start using solar energy once the panels are installed on their rooftop.  They still need to have a final building permit inspection from the City and County.  Only once the city has issued an approval can HECO switch out their new meter, at which point the homeowner can then turn on their solar power.  It's a process Brown says she was told by Solar City should take about a month.

"It's not just me.  It's every installation that they have done and I even called around to other solar companies to find out what their wait time was and would they put it in writing that the wait time would only be a month after the installation? 'Oh well, we can't quite do that.' Ok, two months? 'Well, we can't exactly put it in writing.' I said, 'Six months?' 'Well, now maybe that's a little closer.' I know that the company I'm dealing with isn't the only company dealing with this frustration," described Brown.

For months now, Brown has been trying to get an answer as to why it's taken City and County building inspectors, along with HECO, so long to get her solar connected, but with no luck.  She says she's written letters to the Mayor, the Governor, the Public Utilities Commission and even her Waianae District Representative.

"Everybody's excuse is 'It's not my job, it's not my fault, it's not mine,'" described Brown.

Brown says there's no incentive for HECO to move the process along, and believed they were at fault.

"Where else are they going to get my 37 cents per kilowatt hour if not from billing me directly, because I'm not going to be paying it to them from now on," explained Brown.

According to a HECO spokesperson, the city's building permit approval process is to blame for the delay in getting the Brown's system turned on.  HECO officials say they've seen enormous growth in the last six months and are working to process solar energy conversions as quickly as possible.

Art Challacombe, the Deputy Director of the City's Department of Planning and Permitting released this statement Monday: "The Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) apologizes for any delays residents may be having in the closing of their photovoltaic (PV) building permits. But to put things in perspective, the Department of Planning and Permitting issued 17,385 photovoltaic building permits in fiscal year 2013 (July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013). DPP has 19 electrical inspectors who are responsible for not only PV inspections, but all other building permits that require electrical inspections. This includes new homes, renovations, and commercial projects. More than 26,000 building permits with electrical work were issued in 2012."

"If that's what the system is, then the system has got to be changed," said Brown.

Officials say they've made improvements, but still haven't caught up with the backlog.  Right now, city inspections are free, but in May, they rolled out a program where homeowners can speed up the process by hiring a third-party contractor for a fee.

"That's all I want is to see the system brought up to date and in place so that you get your panels put on your roof and within a month you're actually using solar power," said Brown.  "I think that there are a lot of people that are in the same position we were in, but they haven't complained as loudly."

"I'm hoping that other households that decide they want to put solar in, don't have to wait six months for it to be turned on.  I hope other people don't have to go through the same frustration and length of time to get it, because I think Hawaii needs to be the green state and I think we need to set the example for the rest of the world  as to how to do it," said Brown.

DPP officials say they're currently hiring four new electrical inspectors and two new electrical supervisors in an effort to further reduce the amount of time it takes to close a permit.

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