Community solar is poised to launch in Hawaii as early as this year, and putting the pieces together to make it happen is turning out to be quite a puzzle. Pacific Business News editor in chief A. Kam Napier has more.
Hawaii’s solar boom was visible in every neighborhood as panel after panel appeared on rooftops. But not everyone could take advantage of solar the way homeowners could. Apartment dwellers, small business owners, renters, community groups and more had no way to opt for solar if they wanted too. That will start to change, as early as this year, as Hawaii’s Community-Based Renewable Energy program gets underway.
Commonly called “community solar,” this is a program where people and groups left out of the privately owned solar revolution can buy into the technology, and the savings, but getting credit on their utility bill for subscribing to a solar project. The Public Utilities Commission issued a decision on the program just before Christmas and now it’s up to project developers, utilities and potential customers to figure out how to make it work.
Some observers are seeing stumbling blocks already. For example, Blue Planet Foundation, a staunch supporter of the idea of community solar, is concerned that Hawaii’s specific plans have taken too long to develop. This has shortened the time Hawaii has to take advantage of certain federal tax credits to encourage community solar.
And Jeff Cramer, of the Mainland-based Coalition for Community Solar Access, sees another potential pitfall: The amount of power Hawaiian Electric has been tasked with making available for community solar may be too small to make such projects pencil out for developers.
Overall, however, both say this program is a step in the right direction.