Clean energy-advocating method for setting electric rates approved by Hawaii PUC

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved a new method for setting electric rates designed to encourage a clean energy economy for Hawaii.

Under the new "decoupling" method, electric revenues would be de-linked, or "decoupled," from the amount of electricity (kilowatt-hours) sold. The decoupling proposal was submitted jointly by the Hawaii Division of Consumer Advocacy and the Hawaiian Electric utilities (Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light Company) as part of a PUC docket opened in October 2008.

Under that agreement the utilities committed to much more aggressive clean energy goals including increasing the proportion of renewable energy in Hawaii from 25% by the year 2020 to 40% by the year 2030, adding new energy efficiency goals, implementing a feed-in tariff to speed the addition of renewable energy projects, and pursuing a smart grid that includes advanced metering. The concept of decoupling, which has been adopted for utilities in California, Vermont, New York and many other jurisdictions, was also endorsed by other participants in the docket including environmental and renewable energy groups.

Under a decoupled system, the PUC approves a revenue level based on the services it authorizes the company to undertake on behalf of customers. Rates are then adjusted based on varying sales levels, allowing the utility to continue recovering the costs of providing those services, but not earn additional profit from higher sales. This model provides greater support for energy efficiency and conservation and achievement of Hawaii's clean energy goals.

Under the agreement with the Consumer Advocate, rates also would increase or decrease between formal rate cases largely based on independent cost indices and adjustments would be allowed to recover PUC-approved capital additions.

The PUC's decision requires the Consumer Advocate and the Hawaiian Electric utilities to propose a final decision and order within 30 days, detailing the components and implementation for decoupling. Other parties in the docket will be able to comment on this proposed order. The PUC must issue a final decision and order before decoupling can be implemented.

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