The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday issued a decision on distributed energy resources that affects rooftop solar and battery storage systems.

In the first of a two-phase decision in the docket, the commission laid out new rules to shape the future of distributed energy in Hawaii with an eye on lowering electricity costs for all customers while working to help the state achieve its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

The commission ended the popular net energy metering program, grandfathering in everyone who already has put photovoltaic panels on their roofs or applied to do so by Oct. 12.

The PUC issued a long-awaited decision Tuesday on the future of rooftop solar in Hawaii.
The PUC issued a long-awaited decision Tuesday that affects the future of rooftop solar in Hawaii. Blue Planet Foundation

Instead, the PUC is pushing three other options for customers to take advantage of rooftop solar.

If residential customers or business owners expect to use all the solar power they produce, the PUC has decided they should have an expedited approval process.

Customers who want to sell their excess solar energy back to the grid will be credited at a lower rate than under the NEM program. That’s so the savings from the solar on their rooftops benefits all electric customers, not just the resident or business who can afford to install a PV system, according to the PUC.

Hawaiian Electric says new residential PV customers will pay a minimum monthly bill of $25 to help cover fixed costs of providing service to PV customers who remain connected to the grid for continued service even when their PV systems are not producing energy.

The Sierra Club slammed the PUC’s decision to end the net metering program.

“It is not clear why the PUC just threw net-metering off the cliff, when it has been so effective at moving people off fossil fuels,” said Marti Townsend Director for Sierra Club of Hawaii, in a release. “All of us need to be off fossil fuels by 2045. To get there, we need to be expanding policies that encourage renewable energy use, not ending them.”

Between the end of net metering and such a low cap on the amount of energy solar producers can export to the grid, the Sierra Club says the transition to renewable energy will certainly slow down.

“This is an unfortunate set-back in the battle against climate change,” Townsend said.

Another big issue the PUC addressed in its 322-page decision was a time-of-use tariff. The commission has ordered Hawaiian Electric’s three subsidiaries — which power Oahu, Big Island and Maui County — to develop a “new, expanded time-of-use tariff that allows customers to save money by shifting energy demand to the middle of the day to take advantage of lower-cost solar energy.”

Initially, this tariff will be available for any residential customers who opt in, the PUC said.

“We appreciate the PUC’s thorough review of the complex issues that need to be balanced,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service, in a release. “We see solar power as an important part of the diverse set of renewable energy solutions needed to help lower customer bills and meet Hawaii’s goal of a 100 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2045.”

The next phase of the docket will focus on “further developing competitive markets for distributed energy resources, including storage,” the PUC said.

Read the PUC order below.

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