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Solar Power and Public Institutions

Scott Cooney | Thursday December 8th, 2011 | 1 Comment

The recent announcement of a partnership between Merrill Lynch, SolarCity and the Department of Defense to provide solar power for military housing is perhaps the biggest and most well-known public-private solar power development. But the economics of solar and innovative financing options are becoming increasingly attractive to public institutions across the nation. Despite budget crunches in a lot of states, the long-term rate of return for solar appears to have staying power and appeal beyond the environmental benefits alone. In San Diego County, a prison that is using solar panels to shade its parking lot is getting 14 percent of their power from the new installation.

One such innovative financing option, put forth by the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), asks rate payers to chip in a few bucks extra per month on their electric bills to help pay for solar panels for cash-strapped public schools. When I got this promotion in my electric bill, I signed up to chip in $5 extra per month. Why not? Good cause, right? Well, maybe. The utility has been tasked with turning to clean, renewable energy for 70 percent of generation by 2050, the most aggressive such standard in the nation. So isn’t the responsibility for the financing of these projects that of HECO itself?

The return mail postcard asking for my contribution didn’t have a website for more information, so I searched for the program on HECO’s website. Program details are fuzzy at best. By chipping in, I am helping HECO fulfill its stated role in the partnership between it, and the State Department of Education:

Hawaiian Electric Company is conducting a green pricing program where electric customers have the opportunity to make voluntary contributions to encourage the development of renewable energy. Monies are placed in a Sun Power for Schools fund which is used to install AC grid-connected photovoltaic power systems at selected schools. HECO will operate and maintain the systems for two years after installation.

Two years? What happens after that? And does the school still pay for the power? I tried to reach a representative from HECO but no one seemed to know who I should talk to, and after bouncing around for an hour or so, I decided investigative journalism has its limits.

Do you know of other strange financing options for renewable energy? And if so, what is your assessment?


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Photo courtesy HECO website

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  • http://www.heco.com Janet Crawford

    Hi Scott,
    Regarding your article Solar Power and Public Institutions, we at Hawaiian Electric thank you very much for contributing $5 per month to the Sun Power for Schools program. We apologize that when you called, you were not directed to someone who could answer your questions. There are several of us who can, and I would very much like to talk to you about the program and answer your questions. My direct line is 543-4441. Hopefully we can connect by Wednesday afternoon, before the holidays delay our communication.

    Best regards,

    Janet Crawford
    Hawaiian Electric Company
    Corporate Communications