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HECO’s grid upgrade approved

Nina Wu

State regulators approved the first phase of Hawaiian Electric Companies’ plan to manage its grids with the latest technology at a cost of $86.3 million, the utility announced Wednesday.

That means more choices for Hawaiian Electric customers, but also an extra charge of between 24 to 55 cents a month to help pay for the “grid modernization” plan.

For a typical residential customer, the estimated cost for the first phase would be an extra 24 cents a month on Oahu; 34 cents on Maui; 27 cents on Molokai and Lanai; and 55 cents a month on Hawaii island.

The charge will not be listed as a separate line item like the green infrastructure fee, but rolled into a revenue balancing account. Also, it won’t likely appear on bills until later this year, after the first phase has been deployed, according to Hawaiian Electric spokeswoman Shannon Tangonan.

“We do the work and then are able to collect rates for the work we’ve already done,” said Tangonan. “It’s not something you’ll see tomorrow or next month. It’s not an immediate charge.”

Hawaiian Electric considers the state Public Utilities Commission’s approval a milestone that will pave the way for a more efficient system that can use all grid-connected resources.

With a growing number of privately owned rooftop solar systems — nearly 80,000 on Oahu, Maui County and the Big Island — in addition to more than 500 megawatts of renewable energy projects under contract, Hawaiian Electric’s grid is overdue for a transformation.

Instead of a system built for one-way flow of electricity, the new system would offer real-time data on the two-way stream of power flowing between customers and the grid.

The four-year plan includes advanced meters that let customers install more private, rooftop systems and take advantage of variable rates, as well as a meter data management system that collects and stores data received from the advanced meters. An online energy portal would allow consumers to monitor their energy use.

The plan also calls for a telecommunications network that connects advanced meters and field devices. The utility’s current programs rely on cellular service that is not available in all areas.

Hawaii’s consumer advocate said in the PUC docket that “smart meter deployment must begin; otherwise Hawaii’s ability to move continuously forward with its clean energy transition will be hindered.”

The commission said a modernized grid is necessary for the state to reach its 100 percent clean energy goal by 2045.

Paying for modernization

Impact fees for a typical residential customer to implement first phase of Hawaian Electric’s grid plan:

>> Oahu, 24 cents a month

>> Maui, 34 cents a month

>> Molokai and Lanai, 27 cents a month

>> Hawaii island, 55 cents a month

Source: Hawaiian Electric Companies

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