Solar companies chide Hawaii Electric for delays

HONOLULU (AP) – A backlog of homeowners wanting solar panels hooked to the power grid has led to Hawaii’s main power company and solar energy system companies blaming each other for delays.

About 4,400 rooftop-solar applications in Oahu are waiting to be approved by Hawaiian Electric Co., the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The process used to take weeks. It can now take up to nine months following a requirement by the power company that photovoltaic installations be approved before it connects them to its grid.

Solar companies need to work with Hawaii Electric to fix technical problems stalling the connections to the grid, the electric company’s chief executive officer, Dick Rosenblum, said last week as Hawaii Electric filed an energy-transition plan with the Public Utilities Commission.

“A good deal of those solutions (to end the delays) have to be done on the side of the supplier,” Rosenblum said.

The large number of interconnected photovoltaic systems creates problems for the grid, he said. More than 46,000 individual rooftop solar systems are connected across Oahu, Maui County and on Hawaii Island.

“We never anticipated that it would double every year to the size that it has,” Rosenblum said. “We are so far beyond what everyone has seen that we are seeing technical issues that nobody in our industry has ever seen.”

Solar company officials blame long delays on Hawaii Electric, also known as HECO.

“They are slumlords. They have not kept up with the technology in their grid,” said Jim Whitcomb, founder and CEO of Haleakala Solar. “If they just spent the money and the time to try to embrace this instead of fight this, they would be a hell of a lot further along.”

Most changes Hawaii Electric has requested from solar companies can be done in minutes, he said.

Officials at solar companies said they wonder why Hawaii Electric did not address connectivity issues sooner.

“The reason we are in this mess is because HECO is archaic in their system and their model,” said Christian Adams, president of Bonterra Solar. “HECO is in this mess because of HECO, not because of the solar technology and, if anything, we have helped with that.”