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Solar permit count plummets on neighbor isles

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    Solar City foremen, Shelton Guerrero, left, and Quinton Kamaunu install solar panel on roof of home.

The solar industry continues to contract on the neighbor islands.

Maui County experienced a 71 percent drop in the number of permits issued for rooftop solar systems with 155 permits in the first quarter compared with 540 permits during the same period in 2016.

“The solar PV carnage is being acutely felt on the Valley Isle,” said Marco Mangelsdorf, who compiles the rooftop solar permit data and is president of Hilo-­based ProVision Solar.

The number of photovoltaic systems that were issued permits on Hawaii island last quarter dropped 19 percent to 251 from 311 in the first quarter of 2016.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism recently released similar results for Oahu.

The number of permits issued for residential rooftop solar systems in the first quarter of this year was down 62 percent to 449 from 1,189 in the first quarter of 2016, according to DBEDT.

Permit numbers have been dropping since state regulators ended a popular solar incentive program called net energy metering (NEM) in October 2015. The program credited customers the full retail rate for the excess energy their solar energy systems sent into the grid. Its replacement program called grid-supply, which also recently met its cap, credited customers approximately 15 cents a kilowatt-hour. The only remaining program for customers looking to have a solar system they enroll in is called self-supply, which encourages customers to purchase batteries.

In a March order the state Public Utilities Commission clarified that the solar industry could bring on more customers for the maxed-out grid-supply program to use the space of unfulfilled net energy metering (NEM) applicants who dropped out between October 2015 and Oct. 21, 2016.

Mangelsdorf said many companies have been pursuing filling the added space.

“The less than bad news is that there is more deadwood net energy metering capacity being transferred to the (grid-supply), which provides something of a lifeline to the state’s solar industry that is on track to experience its worst year in the past six or seven,” he said.

Many in the solar community say incentives are needed to help the remaining self-supply program gain popularity.

Two bills moving through the Legislature are looking to do that.

At the Legislature, House Bill 1593 would create a three-year pilot program that would offer rebates to residents who buy batteries. Senate Bill 665 would offer a tax credit for energy storage systems.

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