NEW & NOTEWORTHY: Solar Charges, Puccinia Rust, Feral Cats

posted in: May 2016, New & Noteworthy | 0

HECO Hikes Solar Charges: In an April 14 filing with the Public Utilities Commission, Hawaiian Electric announced it would be charging an as-yet undetermined fee to all 1,100 homeowners still awaiting approval of their net-energy-metering (NEM) applications. The company claims that the circuits that the applicants’ systems would feed into already have so much solar power that it must conduct interconnection requirement studies before the new connections can be added.

Such studies, HECO informed the applicants, “can be expensive” and the customers would be responsible for picking up the costs. It asked the NEM applicants to let the utility know by the end of May whether they want to continue to pursue the NEM option.

In addition, HECO wants to charge the 66 applicants desiring to connect under the grid-supply system $1,700 each. The grid-supply and self-supply options are all that were left to homeowners wanting to install solar energy systems after the PUC ended net-energy-metering last fall. People applying for approval of grid-supply systems were given three options: pay for the study, convert to a self-supply system, or withdraw the application. Should grid-supply applicants wish to proceed as originally intended, HECO asked that the $1,700 be paid within 15 days of their receipt of the notice informing them of the fee.

The PUC was not pleased that HECO announced its intention to send the notice to applicants just a day before it said it was going to put them in the mail, on April 15. In responding to HECO’s notice, PUC chief counsel Thomas Gorak wrote, “Given that HECO filed the HECO letter with the commission at 3:50 p.m. on Thursday … informing the commission that it intended to send out the customer letters on Friday, … the commission has had no opportunity to review the substance of the HECO letter or the attachments.”

“In the future,” he concluded, “please file such letters a minimum of ten business days prior to sending them to customers.”

Puccinia Rust Rule: More than a year ago, the state Board of Agriculture approved a draft rule to curtail domestic imports of plants that are potential hosts of puccinia rust, a fungus that affects plants in the Myrtaceae family, which includes Hawai`i’s `ohi`a trees. The rust was first detected in Hawai`i in 2005 and a one-year emergency ban on imports of Myrtaceae species was imposed in 2007. After that, staff at the Department of Agriculture was reported to be working on a rule to protect `ohi`a and other trees in Hawai`i from the rust. That draft was the subject of the BOA’s 2015 action.

In January, the board approved the next step, when it authorized board chair Scott Enright to schedule public hearings on the proposed rule and appoint a hearing officer.

Jonathan Ho of the DOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch told Environment Hawai`i that his division plans to submit the rule amendment to the Small Business Regulatory Review Board by May 18. After that, he said, the governor will be asked to approve holding public hearings on the rule in June and July.

advoCats Gets a Boost: In March, the office of Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi issued a proclamation declaring the month to be advoCats Month. The group maintains several large trap-neuter-return (TNR) colonies of feral cats along the Kona coast. In his proclamation, Kenoi repeats the claims of this and similar groups that the TNR programs are “the most humane, effective, and cost-effective way to reduce homeless cat populations in the long term.”

That isn’t how the American Bird Conservancy sees it. In 2011, it called upon the nation’s mayors to oppose TNR programs, which, the group says, do little to keep cat populations down (people with unwanted cats will often view dumping their unwanted animals at such a colony as a humane way of getting rid of them). Also, ABC notes, even neutered cats will continue to prey on birds the rest of their natural lives. What’s more, they harbor a number of serious diseases potentially affecting humans, other cats, birds, and even Hawai`i’s endangered monk seals.

Kenoi’s office was asked about the genesis of the proclamation. Craig Kawaguchi, executive assistant to the mayor, said the request for it was not “made in writing. Nancy Hitzemann from advoCats visited the mayor’s office … in person to request the proclamation.” Hitzemann is the group’s vice president.

According to Kawaguchi, advoCats’ first request for a proclamation was back in 2007, when Harry Kim was mayor.

–Patricia Tummons

Volume 26, Number 11 May 2016

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