New solar installation rules likely to raise costs

HONOLULU (AP) – A state board has issued new rules for solar panel installation that will require journeyman electricians to do more of the work, which is expected to raise the cost of installing the systems.

Hawaii’s Board of Electricians and Plumbers will require that electricians handle bonding and grounding the system, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Those are safety measures that keep people from getting shocked, by diverting current into the earth.

Solar energy system contractors previously handled that step. Leslie Cole-Brooks, the executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, said solar panels are now made so that an electrician isn’t needed to ground and bond the systems safely. The rules change will make installations slower and more expensive, she said.

“A significant number of panels have been installed, and nobody could bring forward any singular incident of property damage or personal injury because of an installation,” Cole-Brooks said.

There were about a million photovoltaic panels generating power in Hawaii at the end of 2013.

Building inspectors and electrical contractors had testified to the state board that they were concerned about safety. The number of installations in recent years led some companies to use unqualified workers, they said.

The safety concerns aren’t justified, and costs are likely to rise as a result of the new rules, said Gladys Marrone, government relations director for the Building Industry Association of Hawaii.

“From the building industry’s perspective, our mission (is) to keep construction costs down for homeowners,” she said.

The board won’t finalize the rules until its next meeting June 17.