I know many of you are upset about the utilities’ plan to add $50 (MECO) $55 (HECO) and $61 (HELCO) to our monthly bills. The utilities insist that this is “fair” because someone has to pay for services from the utilities’ aging grids — even if you are already generating your own electricity.

But apparently no one noticed the power grab by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) called “Green Energy Market Securitization” (GEMS) and the Financing Order that the PUC approved on Sept. 4.

HECO greenhouse gases (PF) No text

A HECO power plant that operated in the Pearl City area.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

This allows DBEDT to float $150,000,000 worth of bonds to offer low-interest loans to people who don’t already have PV systems. DBEDT wants us all to foot the bill for the bonds by adding a new fixed fee “from all existing and future electric utility customers to secure repayment of the bonds” for up to 20 years.

This is not what I remembered when the Legislature passed the GEMS statute in 2013, so I checked and sure enough, various testifiers assured the Legislature that there would be no new fee. GEMS will simply credit a customer’s Public Benefits Fee, known as a PBF, which we already pay based on how much energy we use each month. You can read this for yourself here and here and here.

I would love to ask the legislators who voted for GEMS: Did you think this was essentially a “free” program, or did you mean to sign us ratepayers up for a new “fixed” fee?

So I got out my MECO bill to see how this GEMS fee, which starts at $1.29 per month, might be calculated. I discovered that I don’t pay a Public Benefits Fee in a sunny month because I already have a PV system on my roof (for which I took out two loans without any of you, fellow ratepayers, underwriting the costs). I pay a flat grid fee of $17 instead.

I compared this to the bill of a friend who doesn’t have PV and used 237 kWh a month. She paid a PBF surcharge of $1.97. I could see that her PBF fee was enough to cover the GEMS fee of $1.29, and leave a little behind. She would owe nothing more, just as our elected officials had been told.

But it was different for me and the almost 50,000 customers who are already self-generating power. We’re on the hook for the full amount. I didn’t think this was fair, so I sent some requests for more information to HECO and DBEDT.

Here’s what I learned. First, DBEDT now thinks GEMS can be “deployed for grid modernization.” DBEDT told me this when I suggested self-generators should be exempted because we’ve already paid for our systems. The consumer advocate thinks so too, saying that GEMS money should be used “to fund utility scale projects” and “not just facilitate a handful of customers installing PV.”

I don’t know about you, but don’t “grid modernization” and “utility scale projects” sound suspiciously like things the utility should have been doing all along? I’m told this is being worked out in Docket 2014-0135, so there’s still a chance the PUC will dial back to the legislation that the Legislature thought it was passing.

The PUC beat me up on this point, dismissing my suggestion that the Legislature “passed one law while fully intending to pass another.”

Fellow ratepayers, that is exactly what I think happened in 2013: the Legislature intended to pass a bill to 1) get low-interest financing; 2) for underserved markets; 3) to be paid for from the already-assessed public benefits fund, and then to get 4) paid back by the borrowing customers through an on-bill charge.

I would love to ask the legislators who voted for GEMS: Did you think this was essentially a “free” program, or did you mean to sign us ratepayers up for a new “fixed” fee?

I also learned that no one has a clue how this will actually work. I assumed that our bills would be re-worked on a customer-by-customer basis, shifting a portion of the PBF surcharge over to GEMS (in the case of customers without PV) or that a line item would appear charging me and other self-generators the full amount.

But HECO admitted its “Customer Information System” isn’t capable of this delicate math and wants to “offset the PBF” at the “aggregate level.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t know what this means.

Apparently the PUC doesn’t either, because it gave DBEDT and HECO 20 more days to file “details of the adjustment mechanism” they plan to use. I am more than a little shocked to find that no one thought of this until recently, but there you have it.

When I share my outrage with friends that do not self-generate and are paying $250-$500 monthly for electricity, I admit I do not get much sympathy: “Dude. You’re pissed off over $1.29? Get over it.”

The PUC also scolded me for this, pointing out that I should give it up because I’ve “been compensated at a full retail rate” for the energy I produce and provide to MECO. This made me want to rip those panels right off my roof in shame.

But you know what? That is my contract with MECO: in exchange for assuming the risk of loans and doing my bit to save the planet, my monthly fees are reduced by the amount of fossil fuel I don’t use, and I get credit for the energy I supply to MECO.

So it looks like another fixed fee will be added to our monthly utility bills. It will be used for … something, and collected … somehow.

Is it for PV for underserved markets? I think that’s what the Legislature envisioned. But there are over 4,000 wannabe PV customers who are already waiting to connect, and I hope DBEDT won’t use our GEMS fees to offer loans to people to, well, get in line.

And what if it’s for something more utility-scale, something the utilities should have been doing? I’m not at all sure it’s fair to charge us for that.

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