How Hawaii’s high electricity prices may be helping the environment

Published: Aug. 2, 2018 at 5:51 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 2, 2018 at 9:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii pays the most for electricity by far, according to a report revealing Hawaii's prices are more than twice the national average. But those high prices seem to be pushing residents toward a sustainable future with rooftop solar, or photovoltaic, systems.

"Hawaii has the highest electricity in the nation. There is a financial incentive to install solar," said Alan Yonan, communications officer for Hawaii State Energy Office.

Hawaiian Electric Industries, which provides power for 95 percent of residents, reports an upwards trend in installed rooftop solar systems since 2005.

For Kayla Wolf, getting off the grid was an easy choice when she moved to the Big Island from central California.

"The main reason we went solar was the price of mainly installing the electricity, plus then, the price of using it," she said.

Wolf began with a "starter system" before she upgraded to solar units that powers up "pretty much anything." She says that with the money she saved, she probably paid the charges off twice. She's had the rooftop systems for five years.

According to Peter Rosegg, senior spokesman for HEI, lots of people want to go green, but money is the real reason many are driven to get off the grid.

"The pocketbook is always the main (incentive)," Rosegg said.

"When HECO raises its prices, there's always an influx of calls," said Tanys Cabra, a senior authorized sale representative for Hawaii Energy Connection, and the makers of the Solar KumuKit.

Data from HSEO reveals a correlation between fuel oils and electricity price over time.

Price of oil/bills

As HEI sees more customers like Wolf, they have also reported a decrease in company oil use for electricity generation. They are using almost two million fewer barrels of oil compared to 2011. Last year, they used 8.55 million barrels.

Still, Hawaii relies on oil for its energy needs more than any other state in the nation. In 2015, oil accounted for about 67 percent of its electricity production.

In 2011, prices of oil "went through the roof" – and the price of electricity went with it, according to Rosegg.

"All of a sudden, people saw they could save money," said Rosegg.

Residents and business owners turned to renewable energy sources and products that would be more efficient. Hawaiian electric began to sell less electricity, and the decreased demand allowed them to burn less oil.

Photovoltaic capacity installed

Hawaii is no. 1 in residential solar power per household in the nation.

And Honolulu is the no. 1 city for solar PV capacity installed per household, according to the HSEO.

Peter Maskell, president of Island Solar Service, says that high electricity prices aren't the only reason for Hawaii's enthusiasm in solar.

Federal and state tax credit also act as incentives for those looking into solar. Sunny skies in the state are an added bonus.

"The weather in Hawaii is sunny year-round," he said.

The increasing number of solar systems furthers Hawaii's crawl toward the 2045 goal that mandates the state reach 100 percent of energy in the state's electricity sector be produced with renewable sources.

The good news: Hawaii electricity companies are on track to reach that goal, according to the renewable portfolio standard. The RPS sets a percentage every five to 10 years mandating how much electricity companies need to produce using renewable energy, with the eventual mandate of 100 percent generation from renewable energy.

In 2017, according to a state energy report, 27.6 percent of Hawaii's electricity was produced with renewable sources. Officials say that number is on target for the next marker of 2020, mandating the state produce 30 percent of electricity with renewable energy.

State Renewable Standard Level

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