Earth Justice: Solar Energy Foes Try to ‘Block’ Sun-Cartoon-style confrontation in Hawaii is no laughing matter

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In a popular Simpsons episode, the diabolical Mr. Burns builds a giant disc to eclipse the sun and force Springfield’s residents into round-the-clock reliance on electricity from his power plant. It’s pitch-perfect cartoon sarcasm, but with a foot firmly in reality: the fledgling U.S. solar industry faces an array of Burnsian obstacles to its growth across the country.

In Hawaii, for example, Earthjustice is taking on a blatant effort by the state’s largest utility to block homes and businesses from installing rooftop solar panels, a move that could strangle Hawaii’s burgeoning homegrown solar industry, prevent residents and businesses from saving money, and keep the state addicted to imported oil.


If there is anywhere that should be blazing the trail to a clean energy future, it is Hawaii. The islands are blessed with abundant sun, winds, and waves, yet today rely on imported fossil fuels for more than 96 percent of their energy. Hawaii consumers pay the highest electric rates in the nation. The state is trying to chart a new course, but the utility is resisting change and fighting to limit solar access to the local grid.

In so doing, the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is holding back much more than just Hawaii. It is hindering an important experiment with solar energy that could provide valuable information to consumers, entrepreneurs, utility owners and policymakers throughout the United States.

Although we certainly need to cut fossil fuel use by promoting solar and other renewable sources of energy, it isn’t yet clear which policies are best for encouraging their economy-wide growth. In all likelihood, it will be a combination of approaches. Experimentation is critical to find out which ones will work, and lessons learned in Hawaii could answer some key questions for the rest of the country.

HECO’s obstruction is indicative of the myriad challenges the U.S. solar industry faces, especially in places like Hawaii where solar is an absolute no-brainer. A program Hawaii is considering, called a feed-in-tariff, could provide a breakthrough.

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