While we appreciate Rep. Cynthia Thielen’s commitment to renewable energy and attention to our work toward a clean energy future, we must correct several points in her recent commentary, “Storage Is Key to Hawaii’s Energy Independence.”

There is no “moratorium on PV,” as she states. The Hawaiian Electric Companies continue to interconnect PV systems — more than 7,500 to date this year and almost 48,000 systems overall.

The percentage of our customers using rooftop solar is 20 times the national average,  far ahead even of utilities in California, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and Solar Electric Power Association.

Solar panels on parking structure at 665 Halekauwila in Kakaako on July 21, 2014.  Also shown is park which was refurbished by developer of building.

Solar panels on a parking structure in Kakaako.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

We are leading the utility industry in finding innovative solutions to interconnect more customer PV systems to our grids in a way that ensures safety and does not jeopardize reliable service for all customers – those with PV systems and those without. In fact, we just announced solutions for most of the Oahu customers on circuits with high amounts of PV who have been waiting for approval to interconnect.

We agree with Rep. Thielen that energy storage (batteries and other technologies) is essential to the expansion of renewable energy, both customer-sited and utility-scale, but contrary to her comments, Hawaiian Electric has not been slow to adopt what is still an emerging, quickly changing and somewhat expensive technology. In fact, at the Energy Storage North America conference I attended with Rep. Thielen, our utilities’ actions to pursue energy storage were recognized by numerous speakers as being a leader in this area.

Hawaiian Electric is in final negotiations to ensure the lowest possible price for our customers with three companies that will jointly provide between 60 to 200 megawatts of energy storage by 2017. This storage, which can hold electricity for up to half an hour, will let us accept more wind and solar power that can drop off very quickly as weather changes, while at the same time avoid running conventional power plants as often.

Working with Stem Inc., an advanced energy technology leader, we are also deploying energy storage for some commercial customers with rooftop solar to show how it can support the grid to ensure efficient and reliable service for all customers.

These are just two examples of more than a dozen commercial and R&D projects we are engaged in to add more energy storage, often with national and international partners who recognize that Hawaii is a leader and a perfect laboratory for this kind of research. These projects are on every island in our service territory, including Molokai and Lanai.

Our clean energy goals include lowering customer bills by 20 percent and achieving 65 percent renewable electricity by 2030, including tripling customer-sited solar. We recognize that our customers want more choices, including more control over home energy use to save money and protect the environment. A key part of our clean energy plan is giving customers those choices.

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