Solar Tour Review – Maui News

July 12, 2009 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

 PRESENTATION CASTS SUNLIGHT ON ISLAND SOLAR POSSIBILITIES by Chris Hamilton, The Maui News, July 12, 2009

PUKALANI – With Hawaii’s combo of geographical isolation and plentiful supply of sunshine, wind, volcanic heat and waves, Gov. Linda Lingle and lawmakers have said it is a priority to turn the state into a national laboratory for alternative energy creation.

With that in mind, the Hawaii PV Coalition spent Saturday morning on Maui lobbying local politicians and media members to promote policies and laws that would make the use of widespread alternative energy – particularly solar – more reality than vision. The nonprofit trade group hosted its fourth annual House of the Sun tour (The “PV” stands for photovoltaic.) that featured businesses, residences and even a private wastewater treatment plant using solar panels.

“The popular misconception is that some new technology will come along and make my system obsolete, so I should wait,” said Brad Albert, president of the coalition and owner of Rising Sun Solar Electric in Haiku. “But here we have real people. Real buildings. Real technology. Real results. Nobody waited to buy a Prius.”

Installations of solar panels on Maui increased exponentially from 7 in 2002 to 413 today, as the state and federal governments provided tax credits that covered about 50 percent of the price, Albert said.

The average residential system produces 9.75 kilowatt hours a day and costs about $30,000 without the tax credits. A system takes about nine years to pay for itself, according to coalition information, although more people are folding the costs into their 30-year mortgages.

Realtors Association of Maui Chief Staff Executive Terry Tolman said the association installed a solar system atop its Kahului building last year. In June 2008, it paid $2,000 for electricity without solar. Last month, thanks to solar, the association’s electrical bill was $200, Tolman said.

“It’s good for the environment, sets an example for the community and is a very helpful teaching tool for our Realtors,” Tolman said.

However, the solar systems have limitations. For instance, a homeowner would need separate systems to power electricity and to heat water, Albert said. Some buildings aren’t constructed with solar panels in mind, either, making installation difficult to impossible.

And without a slew of heavy-duty batteries, the solar systems cannot store energy, so they don’t work at night. Homes or businesses must remain connected to the utility power grid and draw electricity after dark, which creates monthly electrical bills as well. This setup is called a “net metered solar electric system.”

Unlike some other states, Hawaii regulations do not permit individual solar system owners to sell back unused electricity to the utility companies at prices above retail. Instead, Hawaii solar electrical system owners can return unused power to the utility’s electrical grid and receive a credit toward their electrical bill, Albert said.

Albert said the utilities complain that irregular amounts of electricity returning to the power grid makes it unstable. But Albert called the claim unfounded. He stated that Maui Electric Co. and other utilities see individual solar systems as competitors cutting into their market share.

He also said his coalition opposes the practice of selling electrical energy back to the utilities at inflated rates. The reason, Albert said, is because people who do so tend to buy larger or duplicate systems – much more than they need – and never learn to effectively conserve electricity. “I don’t want to encourage people to get into the energy business,” he said.

It appears as though, despite the state budget deficit, politicians have given themselves reasons in the recent past to support the Hawaii PV Coalition’s platform.

The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative was instituted with a goal to capture 70 percent of the state’s energy from clean sources by 2030. Currently, 90 percent of Hawaii’s electricity comes by burning oil or coal, he noted.

The state has mandated that 20 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.

During the tour, Albert called on Reps. Mele Carroll and Gil Keith-Agaran as well as a Maui County Council Member Sol Kaho’ohalahala staffer to push for more financial incentives for customers to buy solar.

He added that solar installation also contributes to the local economy since it provides jobs and attracts federal stimulus dollars. In fact, on Friday the U.S. Department of Energy gave Hawaii $10 million to “expand the deployment of renewable energy technologies” as well as further develop its energy efficiency programs.

Carroll said the government has a tendency to support centralized, grand-scale alternative energy projects to achieve its goals. One such project is First Wind’s Kaheawa wind farm above Maalaea; the company has a much larger proposal for Molokai. Castle & Cooke also developed a photovoltaic farm on Lanai, and an Australian company wants to build a 2.7-megawatt wave energy generator off Maui’s coast, to name just a few ideas for Maui County in the works.

“The source is here,” Carroll said looking up to the sky. “Everyone should have solar panels on their homes. Why wait if we can start with ourselves.”

The coalition of builders and installers also wants to increase or eliminate the cap on the number of individuals allowed to power their buildings with photovoltaic technology, Albert said.

The state Public Utilities Commission allows only 3 percent of electrical production to come from individual solar units on Maui. The industry is already halfway to that percentage, Albert said.

Using his phone and his Twitter account while still on the tour Saturday, Keith-Agaran wrote that he is considering legislation that would increase the cap to 15 percent of electrical production.

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Entry filed under: Renewable Energy, Solar Electric.

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