Does HECO's new energy plan save customers money?

Does HECO's new energy plan save customers money?
Published: Aug. 27, 2014 at 9:46 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 27, 2014 at 9:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaiian Electric's proposal filed with the Public Utilities Commission aims to increase renewable energy to more than 65 percent by the year 2030, and significantly increase the amount of solar on the power grid.

"We expect to double the amount of rooftop solar by 2020. And so we see photo-voltaic as a very important resource on our system going forward," said Shelee Kimura, HECO vice president for Corporate Planning and Business Development.

But Sierra Club of Hawaii executive director Caitlin Pomerantz said the plan keeps HECO in control of solar growth.

"When they talk about tripling the amount of solar, really what that comes down to is lowering the rate of solar growth from 100 percent a year to seven percent a year. That's not a good compromise," she said.

HECO said it will reduce a customer's electricity bill by 20 percent.

"We expect the overall trend to be a downward trend. But we expect some fluctuations in the near term as we need to make significant investments in the grid to enable the future where we have lower cost renewables," Kimura said.

The utility proposes to pay less for power solar customers send back to the grid, and there are additional charges.

"They appear to be proposing an across the board $55 monthly charge for all rate payers, not just solar, for everybody. I'm not sure how that would lower anyone's rates," said Colin Yost of solar company RevoluSun.

HECO wants to switch from using oil to liquefied natural gas, a cheaper fuel.

"That cost savings for customers is going to allow us to invest more aggressively in our grid so we can enable more low-cost renewable generation," Kimura said.

Pomerantz questions whether the projected savings is realistic.

"The question that the public should have is, 'Can you guaranty us a rate of return on this huge investment in infrastructure needed for LNG?' I think the answer is no," she said.

Yost wants to know how HECO will clear the backlog on the utility's approvals for photo-voltaic.

"We still don't know from this filing what's going to happen to resolve the situation. A lot of people have been waiting for a number of months to get approval," he said.

"We're taking actions today and over the next several months to be able to allow more customers to be interconnected," Kimura sad.

Hawaiian Electric said it will work with the solar industry to get it done; and the plan is a starting point for discussion.

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