New GoldRush – Hawaii will pay individual renewable power producers! Go Solar and save!

Hawaii property owners who install solar power panels on their rooftops will get paid for their excess homegrown electricity under a ruling this week by state regulators.

The decision allows both homeowners and businesses to sell power to the electric utility and get paid nearly as much per kilowatt hour as residents pay to use retail energy.

Those who sign up for the program will get paid 21.8 cents per kilowatt hour of solar power fed into the electric grid, according to the ruling by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday. That compares with an average of 25.3 cents per kilowatt hour paid last month by Oahu customers of Hawaiian Electric Co.

“This is an option for people who generate more energy than they use,” said Scott Seu, vice president for energy resources at Hawaiian Electric, which serves most of the state’s power needs along with its subsidiaries, Maui Electric Co. and Hawaii Electric Light Co. “It’s for anybody who has a fair amount of open space that’s not being used.”

Hawaii, the nation’s most fossil-fuel dependent state, is one of the first regions in the country to institute this policy, known as a feed-in tariff. It guarantees renewable energy producers a fixed price for their power for 20 years.

It’s part of the state’s goal of getting 70 percent of its power from clean sources by 2030 – 40 percent from renewables and 30 percent from efficiency improvements.

“You’re going to see a lot more renewable energy projects happen a lot quicker,” said Darren Kimura, chief executive for Sopogy, a Honolulu-based concentrated solar power company.

The ruling sets rates for small and midsized renewable energy producers to sell solar, wind and hydropower. Sign-up for the program starts Oct. 27 on Oahu, and Nov. 24 on the Big Island and Maui.

It allows for electric grids on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island to add up to 5 percent to their current power output – an additional 60 megawatts on Oahu and 10 megawatts on each of the other two islands. The decision doesn’t cover Kauai, whose grid is run by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

Currently, electric customers statewide may reduce their power bill by providing energy to the grid. But they aren’t paid for producing more energy than they use.

Hawaii may see its solar energy production triple from its current level of about 27 megawatts statewide, said Hawaii Energy Administrator Ted Peck.

“It’s a gold rush,” Peck said. “The intent is to add new systems and new renewables.”

The decision caps project size limits at 5 megawatts for the island of Oahu and 2.72 megawatts for Maui and the Big Island.

Similar feed-in tariff systems have been created in other parts of the country, including Vermont, Oregon, parts of Wisconsin and Gainesville, Fla.

Maui News, Haleakala Solar

*?www.hawaiicleanenergyinitiative.org

* Public Utilities Commission, Docket 2008-0273: http://dms.puc.hawaii.gov/dms