- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - The state’s decision to end a popular solar incentive program has led some companies in the industry to lay off workers or reduce employee hours, according to the Hawaii Solar Energy Association.

The association’s board of directors said the end of the net energy metering program has caused a decrease in the number of homeowners getting rooftop solar systems. Ten of 16 companies surveyed by the association say they have reduced staff or plan to in the future, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported (https://bit.ly/21Ozg2G).

“Companies are trying to adjust, but the fact of the matter is business has contracted,” said Jon Yoshimura, HSEA vice president and Hawaii director of policy and electricity markets for SolarCity Corp.

In January 2015, Hawaiian Electric Co. asked for permission to drop its solar incentive program, which credits customers the full retail rate for any excess energy their systems send to the grid. The Public Utilities Commission agreed to the request in October and replaced the program with two less attractive options.

One credits customers approximately 15 cents per kilowatt-hour for the excess energy their systems send to the grid, roughly 10 cents lower than the full retail rate.

Under the other program, called self-supply, customers are prohibited from sending excess energy to the grid and are not compensated for excess energy. Instead, they use batteries linked to their photovoltaic system to store the excess energy. If the batteries run out, self-supply customers have to purchase power from the grid at the normal retail rate.

HSEA board members said some solar companies are adjusting to the change by shifting their focus, while others have been forced to relocate workers out of state.

“They have just plain given up on selling,” said Rolf Christ, CEO of R&R; Solar Supply. “They just are installing what got approved. Some are leaving the state. Some are moving from (photovoltaic systems) to lighting contracting.”

Other companies have been cutting back hours to keep their workers employed, said Ron Hooson, special inspector for Solar Inspectors Hawaii.

The HSEA board said solar companies have been left to rely on a backlog of net energy metering program applications that came in before the rule changed. Hawaiian Electric Co. was reviewing 1,175 applications as of March 8.

“Frankly, the industry is living off of these approvals,” said Jae Kwak, chief financial officer for Haleakala Solar. “As those get built, there is going to be more hardships. There is going to be more job losses.”

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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