Altzar: Connecting heaven and earth in service of man

By Bob Altzar Djurdjevic

29 Nov 2012

An essay on uses and abuses of energy in Hawaii and on our planet - updated Nov 5, 2012 - originally published on altzar.org; updated Nov 29 - MECO CEO Responds

Electrified! Yes, But Also Robbed...

We are now net PROVIDERS of clean, renewable energy to our public utility; so you'd think it would be time to rejoice? Think again: Hawaiian government and public utilities are colluding to rob clean energy producers blind; Hard to believe? Well, read on...

FROM HAIKU, MAUI (HAWAII)

 

 An essay on uses and abuses of energy in Hawaii and on our planet - an update

Electrified! Yes, But Also Robbed...

We are now net PROVIDERS of clean energy to our public utility; so you'd think it would be time to rejoice? Think again: Hawaiian government and utilities are colluding to rob clean energy producers blind; Hard to believe? Well, check out this essay then...

 

Introduction

It has been almost nine months since our first encounter with an electric car (see "Electrified! (by new Leaf)", Feb 2012).  In May, the nationally and globally-published LivingBetter magazine (right) also ran an OpEd piece about our quest for renewable energy. Much has happened since. We have learned a lot. So I thought I'd share our experiences and give you an update.  To save you from having to to stub your toes as many time as we have.

HAIKU, Maui, Nov 4, 2012 - We've come a long way since that operatic weekend in Honolulu (see "Electrified! (by new Leaf)", Feb 2012). Since late May, Elizabeth and I have been driving a 100% electric car (Nissan Leaf). Furthermore, all our energy needs are being met and, in fact, exceeded by our new solar system which went online two months ago. We have had to spit nails and kick some butts before that happened. But once the system was hooked up to the Maui Electric Company (MECO) net meter in early September, everything ran as smoothly as silk. 

 

In the last two months, we have become net energy PRODUCERS. After meeting all of our electric power needs, including the "fuel" for our new Leaf, we still have about 9 kwH per day of electric power left over from our solar system. Which we have been feeding into the MECO system.

And we are giving them 100% "clean" renewable energy.  Compare that to 85% of MECO's electricity which still comes from "dirty" imported fossil fuels. No wonder Hawaii's electricity costs are three times the national average (see the charts).

 

So you'd think this would be a time to rejoice? So did I. Until I had a talk this week with a MECO representative. I had called to find out how our local utility company would compensate us for the surplus electricity that our solar system is now providing to their grid. During the last 56 days, we have put 512 kWh of our "CLEAN" solar energy into their grid. That’s almost 9 kWh per day or over $100 per month at MECO's retail rates. So I wanted to know how we would get compensated for it.

I was shocked to learn from MECO that we would receive NO compensation at all! Instead we are actually being billed by MECO the minimum monthly rate for just having a net meter installed.

"That’s highway robbery," I told the MECO representative. "That’s like us providing fuel to a gas station for free, which the gas station owner then resells it to other customers at highly inflated rates" (three times the national average, as I said).  Do you think Shell, Chevron or Exxon would every agree to a deal like that?

He was sympathetic but pointed out that MECO was just following the rules set out by the Hawaii PUC (Public Utilities Commission).

"In that case, they should change their name to CORPORATE Utilities Commission," I replied. "Because such rules have nothing to do with PUBLIC interests.  They are only serving the interests of corporations."

Which is a travesty, of course. So I wrote to Sharon Suzuki, MECO's CEO (right photo - sharon.suzuki@mauielectric.com), and copied all PUC aka CUC commissioners on the letter (see below), along with the Hawaii Governor who appointed them. I told them all, "the rules have got to change." (click here to see a PDF of the MECO letter).

Here we have tens of thousands of private solar producers in Hawaii doing what the government should be doing but isn’t - generating clean energy and thus reducing our dependence of dirty foreign imports.  And instead of being compensated for it perhaps at even higher rates that those MECO charges for its dirty electricity, these taxpayers are being robbed by the local electrical utilities in complicity with the government. Together, they are forcing us to hook up to MECO’s grid and supply them with our clean energy. Which, in turn, they are resell without having to pay for it.

No wonder MECO generated $417 million in sales of electricity last year. How much of that amount did they misappropriate from the renewable energy suppliers like ourselves? That's the question I posed to Suzuki and to all other recipients of my letter.

As for the Hawaii state government and the "CUC," what kind of a twisted minds would would devise the rules that put taxpayers who pay these officials' salaries at a disadvantage? And then have the audacity to call themselves "public" servants! 

Here they are. Let me introduce the members of the PUC aka "CUC" to you:

Hermina M. Morita 

Chair

Tel: 808-586-2020, hermina.m.morita@hawaii.gov 

Lorraine H. Akiba 

Commissioner

Tel: 808-586-2020, lorraine.h.akiba@hawaii.gov 

Michael E. Champley 

Commissioner, Tel: 808-586-2020, michael.e.champley@hawaii.gov

So in my letter, I asked all them collectively - MECO, CUC, Governor - to please do the right thing. Change the rules so that solar or wind energy suppliers of surplus electricity are fairly compensated by MECO at or higher rates (since it is clean energy) than what MECO is charging its customers.  And to do it RETROACTIVELY, from the first day each supplier had the renewable energy system installed.

Anxiously awaiting their prompt response. But based on their track record, I am not holding my breath.  So I ask you to join me in this quest for renewable energy and voice your own opinion to them.  Their emails are shown above.  Thank you.

Meanwhile, this is how I closed that "LivingBetter" magazine piece.  Everything I said back then still applies, the good and the bad.  Which includes the last paragraph...

As a result, by the summer of 2012, Elizabeth and I hope to be virtually "off the grid" (meaning 100 percent energy self-sufficient). [check ]

But here’s the best part: As a result of the solar system conversion alone, our lifetime "carbon footprint" reduction will be 464,540 pounds, according to one quote we received. And as for the Leaf, it has zero emissions.  [check ]

Our Mother Earth must be breathing a sigh of relief even if it’s just one home and one family. Can you imagine the impact we, humans, could have globally if more people started to think and to act not only in their self-interests but also in the best interests of our planet? Fortunately, we can do both – act altruistically and in our own self-interest. [check ]

So wake-up America and smell the roses. And then kick your politicians and utilities out of the way on our march to freedom.  [check ]

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Bob Altzar Djurdjevic is a writer, musician, shaman and consultant based in Haiku, Maui, Hawaii.  You can find more of his research and columns at www.gaiasteward.org (environment); www.altzar.org (arts & spirituality), www.truthinmedia.org  (geopolitical) and www.djurdjevic.com (business).

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READER COMMENTS:

SIMON RUSSELL, Neighbor & Candidate for State Representative: Aloha Bob, 
Wonderful article...I agree, you should be compensated for your contribution to the grid.  The PUC is not really public, check out this article by my friend Robin Kaye on Lanai:
http://www.civilbeat.com/posts/2012/10/03/17269-hawaiis-public-utilities-commission-is-not-really-public/

These issues will receive my undivided attention and scrutiny, now, and until the situation is fixed.  In many parts of the country, people pay higher rates for solar and wind energy, and Hawaii should not be an exception.  I would pay MECO to give me your electricity.  Maybe we should look into creating our own utility in Haiku, and just lease the power lines from MECO.  A decentralized power grid is the future.

I have high expectations for this election, and have had over 90% positive feedback so far in my campaign.

ALTZAR's Reply: Thanks for sharing that article. Sounds like your friend from Lanai has come to the same conclusion as I - that PUC is “public” in name only, while serving Corporate interests.  Yes, I am looking forward to seeing you elected and starting to dismantle such corporate in-breeding.

I had a good laugh at your suggestion that maybe we should start a Haiku electric utility. Not that there was anything funny about it. I laughed because three days ago, I said something of the kind myself to Elizabeth. I said, “why don’t we offer to sell our extra electricity to our neighbors?” I’d rather see our “clean” energy being used by the people we know than by strangers through MECO.

Let’s consider the merits of that seriously after the election. Again, good luck and blessings for Nov 6.  You’ve got at least two votes in the bag. :-)

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MADELINE, Ireland: Hi Bob, that is just maddening! But not really surprising. Big businesses, public or private, love to have 'rules' and then stick to them. Hope you can get off the grid - only way to show them. Wish I could do similar, but you know how much sun we have in Ireland!! I don't think I'd get planning permission for a windmill in my tiny back garden - a shame, as we have all the wind you could want! But our electricity company won't take power from consumers. At all. Love, Madeline

ALTZAR's Reply: Thanks for your empathy and understanding, Madeline. It means a lot to me to have friends like you who sheer for sunshine even if they have relatively little of it themselves. Inti Taiti (Father Sun) will reward you in his own way, I am sure.  May I share your comment with my other friends and readers?

You might be also interested in something else that happened last night on the positive side.  Earlier in the week, when I was thinking about doing this piece, I told Elizabeth that rather than have the public utility use our excess electricity to their benefit and profit, maybe we should offer to sell it to some of our neighbors and use a private electrical contractor to distribute it to them.

Well, last night, a neighbor wrote to me after reading this story, and suggested something like that. He said maybe we should form a Haiku (name of our town) electrical utility and pool our resources for the benefits of residents on both sides of the fence. He said he himself would be happy to use the extra electricity we have at the moment. 

The best part? He is a candidate for Representative in State of Hawaii Legislature.  The elections are tomorrow. He said if elected, he would make something like this his priority when he goes to Honolulu (our state capital). :-)

See how Inti Taiti works in miraculous ways? :-) Love ALTZAR

MADELINE, Ireland: What a great idea, Bob! Hope he gets in, and it works out. Yes, do share my comments. After mailing you, I went online and searched for a 'chimney-pot turbine' I saw once on 'Dragon's Den' (a TV programme where small entrepreneurs pitch their ideas for investment), and I found it. I might go further with the idea, we'll see! All the best, Madeline

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SHARON SUZUKI, MECO CEO (also copying all original letter recipients): Dear Mr. Djurdjevic,

I am in receipt of your message and will get back to you soon after looking further into your situation. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Sharon Suzuki

ALTZAR's Reply (copying all original letter recipients): Dear Ms Suzuki and all, 

Thought you'd be interested in seeing a comment I just received from a reader in Canada. As you can see, Ontario utilities do pay for surplus electricity they receive from their solar customers, and they pay more than double the rate they charge for their "dirty" electricity.

THAT's what we also need here in Hawaii.

Bob Dj.

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Utilities Do Pay and They Pay PREMIUM Rates for Surplus Electricity in Canada

HAIKU, Nov 6 - Just got a comment from a reader in Canada. They do pay for surplus energy in Ontario, and at that, they pay more than double the rate the utilities charge their customers. Here's the comment:

Carl Edgar Law, Canada: Ontario began a program some years ago to pay about 80 cents/kW for energy feed back into the grid - to encourage homeowners and businesses to install solar and wind power (mainly). The figure was reduced to about 55 cents/kW more recently.

However, if I use 1,000 kW/month the average cost per kW is about 22 cents Canadian (only fractionally different from US), so the rate for excess power fed back remains quite generous - although the solar or wind installations have to be amortized with that gross profit.

Far as I know all Canadian provinces and jurisdictions have analogous schemes though I don't know what rates they pay.

Hope this helps

Regards

Carl

Carl Edgar Law (near Ottawa, Ontario - our nation's capital)

ALTZAR's Reply: Thanks. Wish there was a way we could export our surplus electricity to the folks in the northeast who are still suffering from power outages due to Sandy (hurricane).

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Marie-Claude, FRANCE:  In France, they pay, too. But I think the amount is diminishing. 

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*NOTE: MECO, our electric utility companies uses fossil fuels for the most part to generate electricity.  Here in Maui, 85% of the electricity comes from oil.  Yuck!  But the Hawaiian electric utility company said it has set as its goal to generate 40% of the electric power from renewable sources by 2030. Today, that share is only 14%.  Yet it is MUCH higher than in the rest of the U.S.  Renewable energy sources account for only 8% of the electric power produced nationally (right chart). 

Think about it and weep.  But not for long.  Then get up and resolve to do something about that, too.  Contact your utility companies and government representatives and tell them that that's just NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  That instead of subsidizing the wasteful car companies, they must provide financial incentives for the public and entrepreneurs to create new sources of energy, ones which do not pollute and kill. 

If you want to learn more about our practical experiences with Nissan Leaf, click here to send us some specific questions.  We would be glad to share what we have learned.

Also, check out these links...

OTHER ELECTRIC AND HYBRID CARS and  Myths and Facts About Electric Cars,

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MECO CEO Responds

And now, here's a letter I received on Nov 14 from MECO CEO Sharon Suzuki in response to my letter and this article:

Dear Mr. Djurdjevic,

 

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your concerns.

 

The Net Energy Metering program offers Maui Electric customers an opportunity to offset their electricity purchases with electricity they generate.  Therefore, they receive credit at the full retail electricity rate for the energy generated rather than being paid at the wholesale rate normally paid for energy purchases.  Any surplus electricity generated by the customer can be carried over a12-month reconciliation period.  As Jamie communicated previously, this rule is consistent with our Public Utilities Commission-approved tariffs, MECO Rule No. 18, Section C Metering and Billing, and the Net Energy Metering law as set forth in Hawaii Revised Statues 269-106. Net Energy Metering generally is most appropriate for customers who have photovoltaic (“PV”) systems sized to meet their own energy requirements.

 

Maui Electric also has the Feed-In Tariff (“FIT”) program, through which the owner of the generator is compensated for any excess energy provided to Maui Electric's grid.  If you are interested in the FIT program, additional information can be found on Maui Electric’s FIT webpage. We commend you for taking the initiative to use a clean, renewable source to meet your energy needs.

 

Regarding the concerns you raised about reliability, while we do our very best to provide clean, safe, and reliable electricity, there are times when power outages result from circumstances that are beyond our control.  Two independent disturbances occurred on the November 6 and 7 resulting in your temporary power loss.  We sincerely apologize for any disruption this may have caused.  The interruptions in service were not related to the delivery of solar electricity into the Maui Electric grid, nor are customers required to feed solar electricity into the grid – batteries can be used to store the electricity provided the PV system is designed to do so.

 

I also would like to address the delay you relayed about responding to your initial phone calls. Our goal is to provide a prompt response to our customers concerns and it appears we did not do that in this case.  I sincerely apologize for that and we will work to address that immediately.

 

If you have any further questions, please contact Steven Rymsha in our Renewable Energy Services Department at (808) 872-3292.

 

Sincerely,

 

Sharon

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FYI: The FIT program to which the MECO CEO is referring is something that her own people (Jamie) told me would not be worth the trouble. It pays only a fraction of the rate MECO charges for its electricity and only after some onerous conditions are met.  So we are back to square one and the bottom line of this article: The Maui/Hawaiian public utility and the "Public" Utility Commission are colluding to commit a robbery of the public who provide clean, renewable energy to their "dirty" electrical grid.

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