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Oahu PV permits plunged 40 percent in September

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The number of photovoltaic building permits issued for Oahu fell 40 percent in September compared with the same month last year.

The City and County of Honolulu issued 379 PV permits last month, down from 631 in September 2015, according to Sunday data sent by Marco Mangelsdorf, who tracks rooftop solar permits and is president of Hilo-based ProVision Solar.

Permits have been generally in decline since the state ended a popular solar energy incentive program last fall. The solar industry has been struggling as a result.

In October 2015, the state Public Utilities Commission terminated a popular incentive for rooftop solar. The program gave solar customers credit equal to the retail rate for the excess energy their systems sent to the grid. The program — net energy metering — helped many of its participants reduce their electric bill to roughly $17 a month.

When NEM ended, the PUC replaced it with two other options called grid-supply and self-supply. And now only one of the two incentive programs, self-supply, is available.

All of Hawaiian Electric Co.’s service territories have met the state’s limit placed on grid-supply. The program lets customers export excess energy to the grid and credits owners 15 cents a kilowatt-hour for the extra energy their systems send. The rate is roughly 8 cents less than the retail rate that had been offered through the NEM program.

Self-supply prohibits solar owners from sending excess energy into HECO’s grid. Most systems need batteries to meet self-supply requirements.

The self-supply program has seen a lackluster adoption rate, Mangesldorf said.

“The adoption rate of customer self supply, typically requiring battery storage, has been decidedly underwhelming with less than 60 in the pipelines for all three Hawaii Electric utilities as of Sept. 27,” Mangesldorf said.

Last week PUC officials said they would be starting a process in which they may reconsider the rules for grid-supply and self-supply.

“The commission recently formally opened the gate for the development and implementation of so-called phase two,” Mangelsdorf said. “The concern among PV contractors, and their customers, is that by the time phase two is determined and goes into effect, there may not be much of local solar electric industry remaining.”

Some 442 solar employees have lost their jobs since the end of a popular solar incentive program, equaling a 42 percent reduction in the solar workforce over the last year.