FIT an excellent program; utilities have messed it up

Hawaii’s Feed-In Tariff Program was introduced in November 2010 to give Hawaiian Electric Co. access to long-term, low-cost renewable energy with minimal investment cost. Twenty-year, fixed-price FIT contracts guarantee that HECO can purchase clean energy at less than half, on average, of its current selling price.

Potential investors, motivated by good intentions and tax incentives passed by our elected officials designed to boost renewable energy production, are ready to invest. The queue of applicants exceeds Maui Electric Co.’s initial FIT allocation of 10 megawatts and there is a sizable waiting list. Prior to acceptance – even for the waiting list – all FIT applicants make major financial commitments by applying for building permits and related engineering studies.

After 3 years, only 22 percent of MECO’s FIT allocation is operational. Citing this slow pace of the FIT rollout, HECO has now recommended that the Public Utilities Commission scrap the plan.

FIT is an excellent program. The problem has been HECO’s cumbersome implementation and lack of vision. Lengthy, expensive, case-by-case interconnect studies and even longer in-house engineering reviews have slowed the process to an almost standstill. While each FIT application needs careful review, a comprehensive integration plan to guide the process is lacking.

Our utilities cannot figure out how to comprehensively integrate renewable energy into their grids, so they want to scrap FIT and start over. How much more diesel fuel will MECO burn while it tries to figure out the next renewable program?

Trip Lynch