In Hawai'i, small-scale solar energy producers–private residences and small businesses–tie into the grid through an agreement with Hawaiian Electric called net metering. It allows these clean energy producers to offset their overall energy demand by feeding the excess energy they produce back into the grid for credit at the current retail rate towards their monthly utility bill, but never for a profit or cash in hand. Now, thanks to a policy shift set by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), independent renewable energy producers have the chance to actually sell clean energy to Hawaiian Electric through a feed-in tariff.
While residential renewable energy produces (systems less than 50KW) will find it monetarily advantageous to continue with net metering, the feed-in tariff opens the door in Hawai'i for energy investors: businesses with a low energy demand and a lot of roof space or property owners with open land, like ranchers or farmers. "Typically, for the smaller energy producer, the feed-in tariff will probably pan out to be less attractive because net metering benefits the user as rates continue to increase over time," explains Myron Thompson, vice president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association.
Investors utilizing onshore wind power, solar photovoltaic power, concentrated solar power and inline hydro power can contract with the utility to sell the clean energy at a fixed rate for 20 years. The rate is determined by the type of renewable energy generator and the size of the system, which must be less than 500 kilowatts. Hawaiian Electric is allocating 60 megawatts of alternative energy to the grid from feed-in tariff subscribers on O•ahu (about the amount of energy required to power 20,000 houses), 10MW on the Big Island and 10MW on Maui, Lana'i and Moloka'i. The PUC states the feed-in tariff provides standardized pricing and guidelines that will accelerate the completion of renewable energy projects and further Hawai'i's independence from imported oil.