HONOLULU (AP) — About 20 people testified their support, some while fighting back tears, for a bill that could lead Hawaii's electric utilities to better accommodate homeowners who make their own renewable energy.
Impassioned power customers and an out-of-work solar panel installer, among others, urged members of the Senate committees overseeing energy and commerce to push Hawaii's utilities to set out clearer guidelines for incorporating solar into the state's power grid.
Democratic Sen. Mike Gabbard, the Energy and Environment Committee chairman, said about 200 people had submitted written testimony, overwhelmingly in support of SB 2656. Those who spoke at the hearing did so over the sound of some 70 people overflowing onto the balcony outside the conference room.
The legislation would allocate $750,000 to fund actions by the Hawaii public utilities commission to address "technical and economic barriers" to utilities incorporating solar. It aims to make connecting to the grid a reasonable option for anyone who installs photovoltaic solar panels.
Many who testified directed their frustration at Hawaiian Electric Companies, known as HECO, which they said has kept them from connecting their solar installations to the grid.
Scott Seu, vice president for energy resources and operations at HECO, offered testimony in opposition to the bill. He said that while HECO welcomed a review by the utility commission, the bill set "unrealistic expectations" and could drive up costs for customers who do not produce their own solar energy.
In the case of William Walker, an Ewa Beach homeowner who testified, that has meant mothballing a system he paid for with a $35,000 loan.
"Even in HECO's letters now, they're telling me that they understand my frustration," he told the committee members. "They can't begin to understand my frustration. They haven't been there for the sleepless nights trying to figure out how I'm going to rebalance my budget, the fights I've had with my spouse over this."