Oahu's solar battery program to advertise clear power hindered by licensing system – Honolulu Star Advertiser
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According to industry representatives, a new program that offers Hawaiian Electric customers on Oahu the opportunity to feed their stored solar power into the grid and be paid for it has aroused great interest.
The introduction of the Battery Bonus program should help make up for a lack of renewable energy when the Oahu coal-fired power plant retires in September, all as part of a government effort to meet the clean energy targets by 2045.
Hawaiian Electric announced the "Battery Bonus" program in late July, offering a one-time cash payment of $ 850 per kilowatt – or $ 4,250 for five kilowatts – to phase one of customers who have agreed to an existing or add a battery to the new solar system on the roof and export it to the grid in the peak evenings. You would have to be committed to the program for 10 years.
Solar companies said phones were ringing and customers were interested in purchasing solar battery systems, but the program is facing a significant hurdle.
The hook? Slow processing of required permits by the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting.
"The interest was huge," said Brian Gold, president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. "The industry would be twice as busy if DPP were to work leaner."
To apply for the program, Hawaiian Electric requires solar companies to obtain a building permit from DPP that sets the final incentive amount, the utility said.
As of September 30th, Hawaiian Electric announced that it had received 334 applications for the Battery Bonus program. Of these, 143 are approved for installation, the rest are in various phases of review.
These are only 31 applications that were approved in late August when the program got underway.
Hawaiian Electric said early challenges arose and applications were returned, with the most common issues being a lack of planning permission followed by a lack of information or documents proving ownership.
Solar companies say the process of applying for approval "over the counter" – or in person – and obtaining approval can take anywhere from four to six months or more.
So while thousands of customers are keen to sign up for the Battery Bonus program, about half are stuck in the approval process, Gold said.
Recently, contractors filing applications at DPP's downtown permit center found a sign informing them that the building permit process is eight weeks behind schedule and payments are about 13 business days behind schedule.
Hawaii Energy Connection's Chris DeBone, who sells the KumuKit, said his company has hundreds of customers looking to sign up for the program.
But in the past, he had approval requests that were automatically canceled because they weren't completed for more than eight weeks and had to be re-submitted to start the process over.
"It's not that they're rejected," he said. "You're just late."
In the “over the counter” approval process, he said, someone gives approval at one of DPP's two offices – downtown or in Kapolei – followed by waiting for an employee to complete the review process, which may take weeks .
After approval – sometimes with some back and forth – there is another wait to make payment in order to receive approval, which can take several weeks. Since it's already October, DeBone says the company has customers sign a disclosure to let them know about risks and that approval may not be obtained in time to complete their project as planned.
According to HSEA in a September 29 letter to Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, the potential consequences of AES going offline are insufficient backup power.
"It doesn't have to happen," Gold said in his letter. "There are immediate, short-term steps your administration can take to resolve issues created by the Department of Planning and Licensing that will enable customer-based solutions to resolve issues with Oahu's electrical grid."
According to HSEA, the solutions are simple and can be approached by moving much of the process online to around six weeks.
In the online approval process, a conditional use permit for the construction is issued, followed by an inspection at the end. But only about 30% of households looking for a solar battery system are considered.
Ineligible include homes that share a driveway and homes that share a control card key that are in a subdivision that includes parts of Mililani and more recent developments in Kapolei and Ewa Beach, where solar power is in great demand. This includes houses in a floodplain or with restricted arrangements.
However, there isn't necessarily something about these ineligible homes that makes their solar battery installations structurally different. Approving these homes for online approval would speed the process without compromising security, they said.
Also, solar systems are generally exceptional and do not require the same level of control as building a new home or building. And they are still subject to controls.
"In reality, these systems are always the same," said Gold. “It's an easy installation for Rooftop Solar. For the most part, it's a one-day job so it really isn't that different from installing a new piece of equipment in your home – a refrigerator or an air conditioner. "
Gold said the group, which represents more than 100 members, has repeatedly asked to meet DPP Director Dean Uchida to discuss practical solutions, to no avail.
According to Gold, the average time frame for solar permit review nationally is one to two weeks, compared to four to six months in Honolulu.
Solar permits also make up more than half of the permits processed at DPP. So if they were streamlined, people there could focus on others in the pipeline.
Instead of getting simpler, DPP's approval process has only recently become longer and more complex for solar battery systems, the company said, just as the industrial sectors increased demand for the new battery program.
The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission approved the Battery Bonus program in June, capping it to 50 megawatts, but hopes to support other renewable energy sources to support AES Hawaii, the 180 MW coal-fired power plant in Campbell Industrial Park, upon retirement replace in September.
The PUC also approved the Kapolei Energy Storage project, the state's largest stand-alone battery storage system, expected to be completed next year, but said fossil fuel charging should be the last resort.
In a statement Thursday evening, Blangiardi said a 2020 DPP audit revealed long-standing problems in the department that both his administration and Uchida want to resolve.
"We are working on alternative methods to improve overall operations and efficiency for the public, and we are launching a modernization plan to upgrade DPP systems and resources," Blangiardi said in a statement.
He said additional questions from the Honolulu Star Advertiser would take more time for an "accurate and thoughtful answer" and that more answers are on the way.
Blangiardi, along with Governor David Ige, along with national partners, declared Wednesday Energy Efficiency Day to recognize the importance of meeting clean energy goals in the face of climate change and their role in creating jobs during the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
THE HAWAIIAN ELECTRIC BATTERY BONUS PROGRAM
>> The utility pays Oahu customers a cash incentive to add energy storage (a battery) to an existing or new rooftop solar system.
>> Customers enrolled in the program for the first 15 megawatts will receive $ 850 per kilowatt ($ 4,250 for 5 KW). Customers for the next 15 MW will receive $ 750 per KW. Customers for the last 20 MW will receive $ 500 per KW. Applications will be accepted until June 20, 2023 or until the 50 MW cap is reached.
>> Customers undertake to export electricity from their battery storage system for two hours between 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. daily until December 31, 2023 and in the program for 10 years.
>> Hawaiian Electric must pay the incentive within 30 days of the delivery of the data.
>> More information: hawaiianelectric.com/batterybonus.