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It’s electric: HELCO TOU rate plan, special medical needs program offer residents cost saving options

Updated: 
May 19, 2017 - 1:15am

NORTH HAWAII — Most Hawaii residents cringe when they see their electric bill each month, but two options may save them between $20 and $100 or more during the same time period.

Hawaii Electric Light Company launched two special-use rate programs recently: the Time-of-Use (TOU) rate plan and Special Medical Needs program.

“We know saving money is important to our customers, and these programs are two of several options that may help them lower their electric bill,” said Kristen Okinaka, Hawaii Electric Light’s senior communications consultant. “The TOU rate may be beneficial for customers who can shift their energy use. The Special Medical Needs Program can lower the cost to power devices that keep customers who depend on them comfortable.”

With guidance from the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, the TOU program began last October. It allows customers to save money if they can use more power during the day — when solar energy production is the highest — and less at night.

The standard rate for Hawaii Island customers without the TOU program is about 31 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) 24/7. On the plan, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. customers pay about 10 cents per kWh, when demand for electricity is lower. The highest rate is from 5 to 10 p.m. at 50 cents per kWh to meet the highest demand, and lowers to about 35 cents per kWh between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m., according to a HELCO customer service representative on Wednesday.

Time-of-use rates are for residential customers only. The lower rates are incentives to shift electric use away from peak demand hours. How much a customer can save depends on if they can use energy more during daylight hours. Several options are changing their energy use by adjusting the thermostat and doing laundry during midday hours.

Larger homes without solar power may benefit most from the plan.

Participation in the program is voluntary, limited to 5,000 customers on Hawaii’s five main islands. So far, only 328 residents have signed up through Hawaii Electric Light, 227 from Maui Electric and 1,600 with Hawaiian Electric.

There is no charge to sign up for the program or to have it installed. The service begins around two months after residents enroll.

Michael and Bridgette Sterling moved to the Big Island several weeks ago from Washington State and jumped on the opportunity.

“We signed up for the program because it made sense for us,” Bridgette said. “We are home during the day and so that’s when we use most of our power — doing laundry and running the dishwasher. At night we have just a few lights on but other than that there’s really nothing else. We cook outside and we have a gas stove so we really don’t use that much energy at night. We’re hoping the Time-of-Use rate plan saves us money on our energy bill.”

Hawaii Electric Light prepares a six-month “shadow bill” for customers enrolled in TOU to help them decide whether or not it is the best option for their home. Once enrolled, the utility changes the customer’s meter to a TOU meter and they are sent monthly shadow bills for six months that show how much of their bill is using the TOU rates versus the pre-existing rates. That way, customers can compare rates and experiment with changing their energy consumption.

If a resident decides to opt out of the TOU program, they will not be eligible to re-enroll.

To sign up, customers must fill out a form found on the Hawaii Electric Light website at www.hawaiianelectric.com/save-energy-and-money/time-of-use-program and mail it to the Honolulu office, or call customer service at 548-7311.

Space is also still available in the two-year Special Medical Needs pilot program, which began last month. It’s limited to 2,000 Hawaii Electric Light, Hawaiian Electric and Maui Electric customers. More than 500 have enrolled in the program so far.

Customers who are dependent on life-support equipment or who need increased heating or cooling due to a medical condition can save money on their utility bills. Special medical needs customers may save up to $20 a month on the first 500 kWh of energy use. Electric use above 500 kWh per month is charged regular residential rates.

To qualify, a customer or a full-time resident in a customer’s home must be dependent on a life-support device used in the home or relied upon for mobility as determined by a licensed physician. Applicable devices include aerosol tents, apnea monitors, hemodialysis machines, compressors, electric nerve stimulators, pressure pumps, electrostatic nebulizers and intermittent positive pressure breathing machines.

Other equipment needs may qualify for the discount and are evaluated individually.

Paraplegic, hemiplegic or quadriplegic residents, or a multiple sclerosis or scleroderma patient with special heating or cooling needs, may also qualify for a special utility rate under this program. A person with special needs may only qualify for the discount at a single service address.

Whether they are applying for the special medical needs rate or not, all residential customers with a person in the home who is dependent on life support or emergency equipment are asked to notify Hawaii Electric Light customer service. They will then be alerted when maintenance outages are planned, and given special consideration should the account become delinquent. Because outages occur, it is essential that anyone with life support or emergency equipment needs makes alternate plans should the power go out.

Applications for the Special Medical Needs program are available at hawaiielectriclight.com/SpecialMedicalNeeds or by calling 885-4605 in Waimea. Completed forms require the signature of a licensed, Hawaii-based physician. Forms can be returned in person or by mail. Information from an applicant or physician is protected under Hawaii Electric Light’s privacy policy available for review on the utility’s homepage.

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