HECO asks companies to disclose PV hurdles [The Honolulu Star-Advertiser]
(Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 26--Responding to reports of unscrupulous business practices by some solar energy companies, Hawaiian Electric Co. this week sent letters to industry participants asking them to fully disclose to their customers hurdles they may face when connecting their solar photovoltaic systems to the grid in areas that are highly saturated with PV panels.
A surge in installations of PV systems has created a situation in which excess solar energy can "back-feed" into the company's grids on Oahu, Hawaii island and the islands of Maui County, potentially damaging customers' electronic equipment and putting utility workers at risk, according to HECO. As a result, HECO and its subsidiary utilities in some cases have required additional engineering studies for PV projects and required customers to install safety equipment to address such concerns.
"Hawaiian Electric is getting reports of practices from some solar vendors that could result in serious safety hazards," Jim Alberts, HECO senior vice president for customer service, wrote in a letter sent to about 340 PV industry officials Tuesday.
He cited several examples, including one in which a PV installer told prospective customers that it had a "special arrangement" with HECO to avoid studies and equipment upgrades. "No such arrangement does -- or can -- exist," Alberts wrote in the letter.
There are other cases in which PV vendors are telling customers on highly saturated circuits to install and turn on their PV systems without getting approval from the utility, according to Alberts. He said HECO officials also have heard of at least one installer who told customers in highly saturated areas that they could interconnect their systems to the grid without participating in HECO's PV program as long as they signed a waiver agreeing to assume liability for any potential utility charges in the future.
"Practices like this put the safety of utility workers and customers at risk and harm the reputation of the solar industry," Alberts wrote. "Your customers are our customers. Please help us to ensure that they're fully informed about what may be involved for them to safely interconnect their PV systems to the grid."
State lawmakers Oct. 14 held informational briefing to discuss a variety of topics related to the boom in PV installations, including the issue of sales and marketing tactics being used by solar energy companies.
Rep. Sharon Har (D, Kapolei-Makakilo) said she had received complaints from some of her constituents that solar companies were not telling them about the levels of PV penetration in their areas or of the possibility that engineering studies and equipment upgrades may be needed.
"What disclosures are you making to customers about this?" Har asked Leslie Cole-Brooks, executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association.
Cole-Brooks responded that while the association could not force members to do so, "it is our position clearly that the customer needs to know."
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