Henry Curtis: HELCO Ignores Residential PV

By Henry Curtis 05/15/2013
A year ago the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) opened a regulatory proceeding on Integrated Resource Planning (IRP). The HECO Companies (HECO, MECO, and HELCO) were given a year to develop short-term Action Plans and evaluate how utility actions would be impacted by different long-term possible future scenarios. The PUC created a 68-member Advisory Group, to be overseen by an Independent Entity (IE), to help the utilities create these Action Plans.

In the course of developing the Action Plans — which is supposed to guide all of the utilities’ capital expenditures over the next five years — the PUC specifically told the HECO Companies to address the issues of distributed generation (such a PV panels on your roof, or self-generation) and energy storage.

Instead, HECO has publicly stated at Advisory Group meetings that they believe the prices of solar installations and batteries will rise each year for the next 20 years, indicating that HECO does not view this as a viable option for Hawaii ratepayers. HECO so states this, despite many advisory Group members pointing out that the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Labs have released figures confirming that prices for both solar installations and battery storage are falling; indeed, the total cost of installing photovoltaic panels is expected to drop by 5-7 percent per year for the next several years.

With the year just about up, the PUC-appointed IE issued a Status Report last Friday, in which the following statements appear:

“The IRP process, as currently being implemented, will not evaluate customer-sited distributed generation strategies.”

“Battery and other storage technologies may be important resources for Hawaii’s island energy systems. The information and analyses presented so far, however, do not consider or explain the nature, costs or potential magnitude of the benefits that could be provided.”

“Until announced otherwise at the May 1, 2013 (AG meeting) the companies have maintained that they did not intend to characterize customer exit opportunities or electricity rate thresholds that could result in increased customer exit or self-generation.”

“Investments in renewable energy resources are characteristically capital-intensive. Several specific large projects under consideration would entail substantial long-term fixed financial obligations that must ultimately be borne by future utility customers. These include possible inter-island transmission systems, LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) infrastructure development, environmental compliance investments and replacement of older generation units. All of these capital investments represent risks that need to be soberly considered in light of uncertainties regarding the magnitude and continuity of the utilities’ future sales base.”1

“(B)ased on the information and materials provided by the HECO Companies to date and based on statements by the HECO Companies regarding what further information and analysis will be provided, unless supplemented by further analysis (the Plans) will not sufficiently or meaningfully address the Principal Issues identified for the IRP process.

Notwithstanding the absence of meaningful consideration of the above challenges, in the meantime HEI has been giving increasingly excessive compensation to their highest paid executives; it is clear that the utility is blind to the future and we must force a change to occur.

Instead of disputing thousands of scientists around the world who have come to the conclusion that climate change is real and a serious threat, consider this: between 2000 and 2011, mankind put 420 billion tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.2 This month the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million.

“The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.”3

Let’s think for a moment about the time-bomb that is about to explode: it is estimated that by the end of the century an exodus of one billion people will have to flee their homelands in search of other places to live. There will be an intensifying global fight over the world’s limited resources, for land, water, food, even air.

Rising temperatures will kill all of the world’s reefs, alter rainfall, intensify storms, and expand and intensify pollen levels worldwide. Currently only 50,000,000 Americans suffer from pollen attacks each year. That number will explode.

What can we do? Ratepayers can displace utility electricity with on-site energy efficiency and renewable energy systems that are cost effective, environmentally and culturally friendly and that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We must provide assistance to lower income people so that everyone benefits.

This will decrease utility sales and force the utility to become a renewable energy service company rather than a profit- gouging machine only interested in maintaining the status quo for its own benefit.

Now is the time to take action.

Originally published in Civil Beat