Requiring Hawaiian Electric Co.'s approval before installation is cited as one reason for the decline
Photovoltaic system permits on Oahu declined to their lowest level in three years in August despite the island leading the nation at midyear for the highest percentage of customers with rooftop solar.
PV installation permits plunged 67 percent from the year-earlier period and were down more than 80 percent from the all-time monthly high in October 2012, according to recent data from the City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting.
The decline is a result of lower solar demand and the obstacles to get PV installations, according to Marco Mangelsdorf, president of Hilo-based ProVision Solar.
"We're already the highest per capita state in the country when it comes to solar PV and solar thermal," Mangelsdorf said. "Most of the people who want to go PV have gone PV or are in the process of going PV."
Hawaii had more solar per capita than any other state in the country in 2013 with 255.1 watts of capacity for every person, according to a recent report by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.
Oahu had the highest percent of rooftop solar customers at midyear — 20 times more than the national average of a half-percent, Hawaiian Electric Co. said in an August report. Since September 2013, HECO has required its customers and contractors to be approved by the utility before installing PV systems.
HECO said last month's decrease was expected.
"It's a natural slowdown," HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said. "On Sept. 6 we said, ‘This is growing to the extent we can't continue an open-door policy, and we are now asking you to get approval before we can connect you to the system.' That and other factors have contributed to the decline."
Despite the decrease in permits, some solar companies are seeing record numbers of interested customers.
"For certain parts of the year, we have taken in more sales agreements (than any time) in our history," said Chris DeBone, owner of Hawaii Energy Connection. "Public demand has not gone down."
DeBone said that waiting for HECO approval has had more of an impact on the number of Hawaii Energy Connection permits and that he expects more problems to come.
"Faced with no interconnection options, more and more issues will arise," DeBone said.
The trend on Oahu has continued to plummet, according to Mangelsdorf.
"It peaked in 2012 and 2013, and the numbers, at least on Oahu, are unmistakable," Mangelsdorf said. "That truly is a roller coaster and has been on the downside month after month after month."
Mangelsdorf said that the utility's grid is going to be a work in progress for a long time.
"The grid has limitations. We have a finite grid," Mangelsdorf said. "There is no short-term fix to the challenges that Hawaiian Electric is facing."