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PUC directs HECO to cut electricity costs, accept more solar

    New rooftop photovoltaic specifications from HECO are meant to smooth the way for more installations in neighborhoods already saturated with solar.

The state Public Utilities Commission Tuesday issued four separate rulings aimed at pushing the Hawaiian Electric Companies to reduce electricity costs and accommodate greater amounts of renewable energy generated by their customers.

The rulings require the state’s largest electric utility to file a series of  "action plans" with the PUC outlining its progress toward meeting various benchmarks within 120 days.

"The orders require the HECO companies to develop and implement major improvement action plans to aggressively pursue energy cost reductions, proactively respond to emerging renewable energy integration challenges, improve the interconnection process for customer-sited photovoltaic systems, and embrace customer demand response programs," according to a news release from the PUC.

The PUC’s action is designed to help HECO "define the utility of the future," PUC Chairwoman Hermina Morita said at a news conference, flanked by the other two PUC commissioners and Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

"In Hawaii this is not an abstract concept," Morita said. "The high penetration of renewables in our electric system,  high energy costs, changing customer expectations and evolving technologies, we are at the leading edge of this energy transformation."

HECO officials said they welcomed the "clear direction and roadmap" provided by the PUC’s rulings.

"We have many of the building blocks already in place, including our grid modernization work, the initial phase of our smart grid project, and our progress in renewable energy – now at more than 18 percent," said Dick Rosenblum, HECO president and chief executive officer.

"We’ve begun deactivating older fossil fuel plants, such as Honolulu Power Plant and others on Maui and Hawaii Island. And we’re taking other steps to lower costs to customers, such as use of low-cost liquefied natural gas as a transition fuel," Rosenblum said."

"We look forward to working with the PUC and the Hawaii State Energy Office as we move forward to develop and execute these comprehensive plans," he said.

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