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Hawaiian Electric announces plans for approval of pending solar applications

HONOLULU, November 3, 2014 – The Hawaiian Electric Companies have announced a plan to clear the backlog of customers awaiting approval to interconnect their rooftop solar systems in neighborhoods with high amounts of solar already installed.

“We have been working diligently with inverter manufacturers, other national technical experts, and the solar industry to address potential safety and reliability issues which no other utility in the nation has yet faced,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service. “Applying results of recent inverter testing, over the next five months we expect that we’ll be able to approve almost all of the customers who have been waiting for interconnection on these high solar circuits.”

“We again apologize for the long and frustrating delay they’ve experienced,” said Alberts.

Under the plan, by April 2015 customers currently awaiting interconnection under the net energy metering program to neighborhood circuits with high levels of installed PV (PV capacity over 120 percent of daytime minimum load) will be approved for interconnection after meeting the following conditions:

  1.  Their PV systems must use inverter models that meet stricter settings for preventing transient overvoltage, or rapid voltage spikes, that can endanger customers, their appliances and utility equipment. Some inverter models are now being tested. Other models may be certified as meeting the new requirements using tests approved by the Hawaiian Electric Companies. Testing protocols are being provided to inverter manufacturers.
  2. Their PV systems must use inverter models capable of complying with Hawaiian Electric specifications to “ride through” possible unstable frequency and voltage conditions during emergencies on the island-wide electric grid. Once inverter models have been certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), customers and their solar contractors or inverter manufacturers must reset inverters to these new settings. In the meantime, they must use recently approved interim settings.

In some cases, the normal technical review process may identify other issues for which more significant equipment upgrades may be needed. About 250 applications may be in this category, but it is anticipated they will be approved for interconnection no later than December 2015.
The above actions are based on favorable results from initial inverter testing. The Hawaiian Electric Companies will consider the final testing results and evaluate the applicability of these solutions for future customers who apply for interconnection.

Year to date, the Hawaiian Electric Companies have approved about 7,500 applications from customers to interconnect their rooftop solar systems to the grid. As of October 2014, the list of applications in progress for O‘ahu includes approximately:

 

  •  1,100 customers seeking interconnection on circuits with installed PV equal to or less than 120% of the daytime minimum load. These applications are moving through the normal process and are likely to receive prompt approvals. In this category, new applications come in and, after review, approvals are sent out on an ongoing basis.
  • About 1,000 customers are awaiting completion of upgrades to substations or other modifications to their own systems and will soon receive approvals.
  • 2,700 customers are on circuits over 120% daytime minimum load. These will be approved over the coming months as this plan is implemented

Similar approval plans will go into effect for Maui Electric and Hawai‘i Electric Light with each company having about 330 customers awaiting approvals on circuits with high amounts of installed PV.

Beyond these solutions for customers already awaiting rooftop solar interconnection approval, the companies are working on a range of other customer options, such as a non-export model incorporating battery storage and a community solar program, that will support a tripling of customer-sited solar in coming years. The companies’ have submitted a Distributed Generation Interconnection Plan and Integrated Interconnection Queue Proposal for review to the Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission.

Across the three Hawaiian Electric Companies, more than 48,000 customers have rooftop solar. As of September 2014, about 11% of Hawaiian Electric customers, 10% of Maui Electric customers and 8 percent of Hawai‘i Electric Light customers have rooftop solar. This compares to a national average of one-half of one percent (0.5%) as of December 2013, according to the Solar Electric Power Association.