Condo dwellers, renters may soon be able to invest in solar panels

For many years, homeowners have had the opportunity to install solar panels to save money on their electricity bill.

A bill now being considered at the legislature could give apartment and condo dwellers the same advantage by allowing them to invest in a solar complex elsewhere.

Under the proposed plan, they would pay for a panel or panels of their own that might be located on a roof or solar farm and the energy savings would be reflected on their electric bill.

“I don’t think there’s a downside to this bill,” said Rep. Chris Lee (D-Kailua, Waimanalo), who heads the House energy committee. “It’s a win-win for everybody. It’s a win for the businesses who could host solar panels on their roofs and take a small cut. It’s a win for consumers who can now put panels up somewhere else and get economic benefit and save money on their bills.”

Hawaiian Electric Co. has placed limits when it comes to the rapid development of solar power and how it fits into the company’s grid.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure that our customers have safe, reliable power,” said HECO spokesperson Darren Pai. “We also know that improving access to renewable energy is important to our community.”

Still, Pai says, HECO is willing to look at the legislation with open eyes.

“We believe that this is a really important option that can help improve access to these programs for customers and help them enjoy some of the benefits of renewable energy,” Pai said.

There is no way to tell for certain how much money a person could save by buying or leasing a solar panel some distance from his or her apartment, but all parties agree having a panel would result in some sort of savings.

“This would just exist on someone else’s roof – an empty rooftop, maybe a large project somewhere where it’s sunny — and it’s really just an accounting thing,” said Jeff Mikulina of Blue Planet Foundation. “Potentially, you own that solar panel that’s out in Ewa, and the power that’s generated is deducted from your bill.”

“Everybody deserves to save money equally and this levels the playing field,” said Rep. Lee.

Read SB2934 in its entirety.

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