Hawaiian Electric Co. is warning customers on Oahu who have hooked up solar systems to its grid without the utility’s approval to shut them down or utility workers will.

“After sufficient notice, if a customer does not disconnect the PV system and notify Hawaiian Electric, PUC rules give the utility authority to shut off the system and lock it to prevent interconnection until technical and other checks confirm it is safe,” according to a HECO press release. “Regular electric service will continue for customers with locked-out PV systems.”

The utility doesn’t have an estimate on how many customers may have rogue systems hooked up to its grid, but there are ways for the utility to figure out if an individual customer is operating an unapproved solar system, according to HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg.

Blue Planet solar photo

solar panels

Blue Planet Foundation

Meter readers who see homes with rooftop solar systems can check them against a list of approved systems, he noted. If a customer’s electricity bill suddenly drops and stays low or at the minimum $17 per month fee, this could be an indication that they are using solar. Rosegg said another sign could be if a homeowner takes out a building permit for a solar system, but then never sends HECO a net energy metering agreement application.

HECO must approve the application in order for the customer to turn the system on and use HECO’s grid as essentially battery storage.

“So now we are starting to send out letters to those we suspect of having a system that has not been authorized,” Rosegg said by email. “The letter says if you think you got this letter in error, please call. But otherwise, please shut off your system. We are not eager to lock systems out, but we have the authority and ability to do so.”

Rosegg said that there have always been unreported solar systems on Oahu, but with the rise in popularity of solar there are likely that many more, threatening the safety and reliability of the grid. There are now about 33,000 approved solar systems on Oahu.

After HECO implemented new rules last year that require potentially lengthy and costly approvals for solar systems, there were reports of unscrupulous solar salespeople lying to customers about receiving pre-approvals from HECO to turn the systems on or not informing customers of potentially long wait times.

Some customers have gotten stuck essentially paying two electricity bills — one to HECO for energy use and another for the idle solar system.

There are currently about 4,000 solar applications awaiting HECO approval.

Customers with questions can call HECO at 808-543-4760 or email: nem@hawaiianelectric.com.

 

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