Maui Business

Hawaiian Electric Seeks Approval on Solar Water Heating Program

January 3, 2012, 8:41 PM HST
* Updated January 4, 6:02 AM
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Maui Electric Company offices in Kahului. Photo by Wendy Osher.

By Sonia Isotov

Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light Company have asked the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to approve a program that would provide immediate solar water heating savings to residential customers at no upfront cost.

“Solar water heating is one of the most cost effective ways of reducing your monthly electric bill. For people who can pay the upfront cost, taking advantage of available tax credits and rebates is probably the best route to go. But there are still a lot of people who can’t afford the upfront cost. This program is designed specifically for them,” said Mark Duda, president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, in a written statement.

Photo courtesy of DLIR.

Under the proposed Simply Solar program, each utility would provide funding to install solar water heating on qualifying residential properties. Participating residents would experience an immediate reduction in monthly bills while a portion of the savings from solar water heating each month would go to repay the cost of the installation. The savings and repayment would attach to the property, not the customer, which should appeal to renters and landlords as well as homeowners.

In the past, renters have not been able to take advantage of the benefits of solar water heating because they do not own their homes and landlords, who generally do not pay electric bills for rental properties, have had little incentive to install money-saving solar systems.

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Under Simply Solar, landlords could receive a valuable upgrade to their property at no cost and renters would benefit from the electricity savings. Homeowners would similarly receive a valuable upgrade to their property and see an immediate reduction in their electric bills. If the owner sells the home or moves out, or the renter moves out, savings would go to the next occupants of the home.

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In most households, water heating is the largest single cost on electric bills. Solar water heating can reduce monthly residential electricity consumption by 25% to 35%, depending on the size of the household and use of hot water. Under the Simply Solar program, the savings from using solar water heating would be greater than the program participants’ monthly payments, providing an immediate bill reduction.

As a program lasting three years, Simply Solar is proposed to be open annually to at least 1,850 Hawaiian Electric customers on Oahu, 450 Hawaii Electric Light Company customers on the Big Island and 250 Maui Electric customers in Maui County. The utilities would own and maintain the solar water heating systems which would be installed by approved independent solar water heating providers chosen through a competitive process.

Hawaiian Electric is requesting to implement the program early in 2012.

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