New ‘green energy’ fee added to electric bills starting this month

Starting this month, Hawaiian Electric customers can expect to see a new line on their electric bills.

The Green Infrastructure Fee will finance the State of Hawaii’s Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) program. It will be run by the State Energy Office out of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

GEMS will offer low-interest loans for those who cannot afford the upfront cost or are unable to secure a bank loan for devices such as photovoltaic systems, energy storage, advanced inverters or energy monitors.

However, a corresponding reduction of the monthly Public Benefits Fund surcharge, collected to pay for the state’s conservation and energy efficiency programs, means most customers will likely see little net change on their electric bills.

For a typical residential customer using 600 kWh a month, HECO says the Green Infrastructure Fee will be $1.29 per month. It will appear under the listing of “Current Charges: Electric Service” beginning with December 2014 monthly bills of all Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light customers.

As required by law and authorized by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, all residential and commercial customers will pay the Green Infrastructure Fee. The new fee will enable the State of Hawaii to borrow $150 million for its GEMS program.

Residential customers on Oahu already pay an average of $197 a month for electricity, but even with this new fee, HECO says customers will not be paying more for electricity.

That’s because this new fee will be offset by a reduced fee that customers have been seeing on their bills for years. The Public Benefits Fund surcharge was put in place in 2009 and funds the Hawaii Energy Efficiency Program (Hawaii Energy), a kind of incentive program that offers cash rebates to customers who pay for green devices like energy-efficient water heaters and appliances that carry the “Energy Star” certification.

State Rep. Chris Lee (D-Kailua, Waimanalo), who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, says the utility companies are acting just as pass-throughs and the money from this new fee is actually going to the state.

Lee says the new program is targeted at “the middle-to-low-income people who cannot get a big loan from a big bank, but with this financing from the state, will be able to afford solar.”

The state secured the money for the program upfront through the sale of bonds. The money collected from the new fee will go to pay those who bought the bonds.

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, says “this is a really exciting program and Hawaii is the first in the nation.”  The program was approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie earlier this year.

Still, that new fee does not please everyone.

“I think it’s a rip off by our No. 1 monopoly,” said state Sen. Sam Slom (R-East Oahu). “For years I’ve been telling people to look at your bills carefully and when you see a new fee to call your legislator and ask why you are paying these extra fees.”

A spokesman for the State Energy Office says the first in line to apply for the loans will be non-profit organizations. Individuals can apply for the state loans in January.

For information on how to apply for a GEMS loan, click here or call (808) 586-2407.

Under the tariff, if the Green Infrastructure Fee or any part of the monthly electric bill is not paid, it may result in discontinuation of service in accordance with Rule No. 7, Discontinuance and Restoration of Service. Customers who have problems paying their electric bills are encouraged to call their island utility as soon as possible to make payment arrangements before bills become past due. Credit representatives can assist any customer having temporary difficulties.

Numbers to call for bill inquiries, also listed on each company’s website, are:

  • (808) 548-7311 from Oahu
  • (808) 871-9777 from Maui
  • 1-877-871-8461 toll free from Molokai and Lanai
  • (808) 969-6999 from Hilo
  • (808) 329-3584 from Kona
  • (808) 885-4605 from Waimea

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