Solar hookup delays put homeowners in limbo

Hawaiian Electric puts brakes on hookups citing safety concerns

Published  5:35 PM HST Oct 14, 2013
HONOLULU -

Imagine shelling out for a new solar system, only not being able to reap the benefits.

"Oh, yeah. We are definitely very frustrated," said William Walker.

 Walker is in a power pickle. He is paying on a $35,000 loan for his system plus his power bills.

Click here to watch Catherine Cruz's report.

"Now, we are looking at months, or maybe years before we get this resolved," said Walker.

A Kunia couple dipped into their savings for a new system only to be told Hawaiian Electric is putting off new hookups in certain areas, including theirs.

"We just don't know. Meanwhile, here we expected our system to be online and saving us money because we still are HECO customers, instead we are stuck in limbo," said Ronald Hayashi.

 The couple decided to have a system installed at their Kunia home because of health problems that require Janet Hayashi to stay home. She's upset at the process.

"We had no input. We had no say," said Janet Hayashi.

Ray Ichihara put a $9,000 down payment on a system but then got a call from his vender with bad news.

"I just want them to start the work and so I can get some benefit out of what I am paying for," Ichihara said.  

The Kunia resident wanted to hear for himself what industry leaders are saying about the problem.

Hawaiian Electric appeared at a legislative briefing and laid out what they say is a safety issue with so many people on one circuit feeding power into the grid at one time.

"You have so much electricity and it has nowhere to go. So for a brief period of time you have voltage spikes which could blow up appliances and it could cause safety issues to people who are working on the system at the time. So, there are potentially very serious issues," said HECO Vice-President Scott Seu.

HECO is willing to grandfather customers who submitted their applications before Sept 6, but that only covers a little more than 200 homeowners.

Meanwhile, solar companies complain they are seeing a downturn in business and some are preparing to lay off workers.

"That's the reason why we are having this hearing to get to the bottom of this as fast as possible to avoid any layoffs and people can continue to get solar installed, and HECO can move ahead with their plans to be renewable into the future," said Rep. Chris Lee.

For the immediate future, the payoff for solar hookups and the added costs, are up in the air.

Hawaiian Electric has four studies underway to look at what it needs to do to expand its capacity, but only three will be complete by the end of the year.

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