- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) - Maui Electric Co. is holding off on approving new rooftop solar systems after announcing Wednesday that the county has reached the 5-megawatt limit for solar systems that can send power to its grid.

Starting next week, residents on Maui, Lanai and Molokai who want to install new solar systems will have to buy batteries to hold any excess power generated by the panels. They won’t be able to send power to the grid.

The previous policy allowed customers to send excess power to the grid and receive a credit, often lower their monthly bill to less than $20.

“These systems, sometimes consisting of dozens of panels, can export significantly more electricity to the grid than the household actually uses,” the utility said in a Wednesday announcement. “As these large systems were installed, there was less room on the grid for additional systems.”

Solar energy groups criticized the Maui utility and argued that the grid-supply system remained the “only functioning and viable option for customers to adopt rooftop solar.”

“Nonetheless, the Hawaiian Electric utilities remain adamantly opposed to reasonable efforts to extend the cap or to create a customer-friendly wait list,” the Hawaii Solar Energy Association said.

The Maui utility said residents can still purchase rooftop solar systems that don’t export power to the island-wide grid and reduce their electric bills. Jim Alberts, senior vice president of customer service at Hawaiian Electric Co., said the battery systems, also known as “self-supply,” are a good option for customers.

Last year, the state Public Utilities Commission put a 35-megawatt limit on the total amount of energy generated from the grid-supply program statewide and a 5-megawatt limit for Maui.

The state is set to revisit solar rules in October 2017.

“It’s our hope that the PUC will act quickly to raise the grid-supply cap on Maui and throughout the state of Hawaii,” said Robert Harris of the Alliance for Solar Choice.

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