Kokua Line: HECO’s denial of damage claim leads rooftop solar customer to PUC
Question: On Aug. 11, at about noon, there was a severe power outage in the Enchanted Lake neighborhood. I heard a loud “pop” sound and thought my clothes dryer had malfunctioned. Ten minutes later I was made aware of the power outage.
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Question: On Aug. 11, at about noon, there was a severe power outage in the Enchanted Lake neighborhood. I heard a loud “pop” sound and thought my clothes dryer had malfunctioned. Ten minutes later I was made aware of the power outage. Hours later, when the power was restored, I went around the house checking whether the appliances were working. I thought I had gotten off lucky in that only one power strip had been damaged. It was not until I received my current HECO bill (service date of Aug. 16 to Sept. 14) that I discovered seven of our 14 solar panels had been damaged. I called HECO’s claim department on Sept. 19 to file a claim for these damages. On Sept. 23, I received a letter from HECO denying my claim, referencing Rule No. 16. The Rule No. 16 states that a damage claim “must be filed with the Company within thirty (30) days of the interruption of service.” This rule was made effective Feb. 6, 1991, by the PUC. I find the 30-day window to file a claim unacceptable. I believe this rule needs to be updated to accommodate our energy requirements under today’s standards. Ninety days to file a claim would be more realistic. Currently my solar system is running at 50 percent capacity because of the damage incurred by HECO’s power outage. I am quite concerned because HECO is not taking responsibility. Can anything be done?
Answer: We followed up with Hawaiian Electric. Co., and with the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates public utilities in Hawaii to ensure that they provide reliable service at justifiable rates.
Shannon Tangonan, a spokeswoman for Hawaiian Electric, confirmed that your claim was denied and said there was no possibility for appeal within the company. That means that your next step, should you choose to pursue it, would be to file an informal complaint with the PUC.
Here’s Tangonan’s full response:
“Our records show that a tree came into contact with a power line in Kailua, causing an outage on Aug. 11. We regret that the service interruption affected the customer’s private rooftop solar system. In the event of a power outage, rooftop solar systems must automatically shut down for the safety of our crews working to restore power. Crews cannot safely work on power lines if rooftop solar systems continue to send power onto the grid.
“After any power interruption, it is a good practice for rooftop solar customers to verify that their system is working properly by checking their online portals or contacting their solar contractor. Under Rule 16, which is set by the Public Utilities Commission, a claim for any outage-related loss must be filed within 30 days of the power interruption. There is no appeal process.”
Fliers explaining the rule are distributed with bills twice a year, or customers can read it online, at 808ne.ws/rule16.
The PUC, meanwhile, provided the following instructions:
“The reader can bring this issue to the attention of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission by filing an informal complaint with us. Forms, information and instructions for filing complaints are on the PUC website at puc. hawaii.gov, or can be obtained by calling one of the PUC offices or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. After receiving information, our Consumer Affairs and Compliance staff will investigate the situation and determine how to best address the issue, which may include review and assessment of rules and/or tariffs.”
You can find direct information about the informal complaint process at 808ne.ws/inforcom, but may prefer to start on the PUC’s homepage for background information.
If you need to call, the PUC’s number on Oahu is 586-2020.
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email email@example.com.