Community-Based Renewable Energy Explained

Aug 30, 2021



  • Hawaiian Electric (the utility) is responsible for managing the Community-Based Renewable Energy (CBRE) program across Oahu, Maui and Hawaii Island. In certain instances, Hawaiian Electric can also develop and operate a CBRE project.
  • Subscriber Organization is a company, organization or group of people who own, develop and/or operate a CBRE project.
  • Subscribers include residential or commercial customers who can participate in the CBRE program by either leasing or purchasing a portion of solar panels from a CBRE project on island. Once a subscriber, a monthly bill credit will be applied to your electric bill to offset a portion of your total monthly electricity use.
  • Subscriber Agreement describes the terms between the subscriber and a subscriber organization.

Source: Hawaiian Electric

1. What is Community-Based Renewable Energy (CBRE)?

CBRE, also known as shared renewables, is a concept that allows a group of electric utility customers who cannot install solar, small wind, or other renewable distributed generation on their property to invest in an off-site renewable energy project and receive the environmental and financial benefits generated by the project. Shared renewable energy arrangements, like CBRE, allow several customers to share the benefits of one local renewable energy project. When the electricity generated is supplied strictly by solar energy, this is often called “community solar.”  In Hawaii, it is referred to as “shared solar.” 

2. What is the goal of the CBRE program?

The goal of Hawaii’s CBRE program is to expand customers’ access to the economic, environmental and societal benefits of renewable energy generation. As mentioned above, the CBRE program gives a greater number of Hawaii’s residents the choice to make a direct investment in Hawaii’s renewable energy transition. Once subscribed to a CBRE project, a participating customer (also known as a “subscriber”) will also financially benefit from their participation. As the CBRE project begins generating electricity to the grid, each subscriber will receive a credit on their monthly electric bill based on their share of electricity generated from the CBRE project that is sold to Hawaiian Electric. This credit is likely to offset a portion of their total monthly electric bill.

3. Who can be a subscriber?

Residential and commercial customers can participate in the CBRE program if they have a current electricity account with Hawaiian Electric and have received service at the same location where they are requesting participation, for at least 3 months at the time of enrollment. However, if a customer is currently enrolled or participating in one of the following tariffs or programs, they are not allowed to subscribe to a CBRE project.

  • Schedule Q
  • Net Energy Metering (NEM)
  • Feed-In Tariff
  • Standard Interconnection Agreement
  • Customer Grid Supply
  • Customer Grid Supply Plus
  • Smart Export
  • Customer Self Supply
  • A subscriber for another CBRE Phase 1 or Phase 2 project

4. How much renewable energy can a subscriber purchase or lease from a CBRE project?

A subscriber can subscribe to a CBRE project for no more than 100% of their average energy use determined by the previous 12 months. At a minimum, subscribers must subscribe to 1 kilowatt (kW) AC of a CBRE project. For Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) subscribers, a minimum subscription of 0.5 kW AC is required. 

5. Can a subscriber participate in more than one CBRE project?

No. A subscriber may participate in only one CBRE project at a time and must maintain an electricity account and service address on the same island as the CBRE project where they are subscribed.

6. What subscription models are available to the subscriber?

Depending on the Subscriber Organization, the subscriber may have the ability to choose between two subscription models: (1) “Pay-As-You-Go” or (2) “Pay-Up-Front.” If a Subscriber Organization offers “Pay-As-You-Go,” the subscriber does not make any up-front payments for their subscription in the CBRE project. Instead, the subscriber makes periodic (likely to be monthly) payments to the Subscriber Organization.

A Subscriber Organization may also offer a “Pay-Up-Front” subscription model, which requires the subscriber to make an upfront payment to the Subscriber Organization for their subscription in the CBRE project. If selected, the subscriber is not required to make further period payments to the Subscriber Organization.

7. What if a subscriber no longer wants to participate in the CBRE program?

For subscribers enrolled in the “Pay-As-You-Go” subscription model, the subscriber can cancel their subscription with the Subscriber Organization in accordance with the Subscriber Agreement. If a subscriber wants to transfer their subscription to another customer, the Subscriber Organization will need to first confirm the customer’s eligibility. Any transfer of a subscriber’s “Pay-As-You-Go” subscription must be for at least 50% of the total subscription.

For subscribers enrolled in the “Pay-Up-Front” subscription model, the subscriber can sell all or a portion of their subscription back to the Subscriber Organization at the price agreed to in the Subscriber Agreement. If a subscriber wants to transfer their subscription to another customer, the same requirements apply as the “Pay-As-You-Go” subscription model. 

8. Can LMI customers participate in the CBRE program?

Yes. An LMI subscriber can be either an (1) LMI customer or (2) a LMI Anchor Tenant. If a customer meets one of following criteria, they are eligible to be a LMI customer in a CBRE LMI project:

  • A member of a household with a household income that is equal or less than the income limits established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for a LMI household;
  • Is a participant in any one or more of the following programs: (1) Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), (2) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), (3) Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8), (4) Hawaii MedQuest Program, (5) Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), (6) Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications (Federal or State), (7) Child Care Connection Hawaii, (8) Preschool Open Doors, (9) National School Lunch Program (NSLP), (10) Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the NSLP, (11) Hawaii Head Start, (12) Early Head Start, (13) Supplemental Security Income (SSI), (14) Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), (15) Women, Infants and Children (WIC), (16) Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), (17) Temporary Assistance for Other Needy Families (TANOF), (18) Hawaii Energy Affordability and Accessibility Program, (19) Any verified government (Hawaii State or Federal) program providing services to LMI persons or households, (20) Any verified government (Hawaii State or Federal) or Hawaii non-profit program serving Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed (ALICE) persons or households, (21) Hawaiian Telecom’s Internet Kokua Program, and (22) Spectrum’s Internet Assist program; or
  • A person residing in any zip code identified by Hawaii Energy as qualifying for LMI status.

9. What is an LMI Anchor Tenant?

An LMI Anchor Tenant is a business or organization that has a significant annual spend on electricity who agrees to subscribe to a relatively large portion of a CBRE project for the entire contract term. A customer is eligible to be a LMI Anchor Tenant and subscribe to a CBRE LMI project if it meets one of the following criteria:

  • A city, county, state or federal governmental agency;
  • A 501(c)(3) organization; or
  • A participant in Hawaii Energy’s Energy Advantage program, a program within Hawaii Energy’s Affordability and Accessibility Program that is reserved for certain small businesses and restaurants.

10. Will I need to purchase any new equipment from Hawaiian Electric?

No. Once customer eligibility is confirmed, no additional equipment is required to be installed on the customer’s property. 

11. How do I sign up?

If you are a customer who would like to participate in the CBRE program, a list of each step and a high-level description is provided below. 

  • Find a subscriber organization. The CBRE program currently does not allow customers to purchase or lease a “share” of a CBRE project directly from Hawaiian Electric. Instead, customers need to find a subscriber organization who will provide information on a specific CBRE project, its commercial start date, the number of subscriptions/shares available and more. Subscriber organizations along with new and available CBRE projects can be found on Hawaiian Electric CBRE Shared Solar Portal.
  • Make an agreement. Once a customer finds a CBRE project that works for them, an agreement between the customer (subscriber) and the subscriber organization will be finalized. The agreement will include terms that include but are not limited to: contract term, credit rate and associated calculations, bill credit mechanism and timing, transfer and/or exit fees and terms. To protect subscribers who are considering participating, and/or do participate, in a CBRE project, Hawaiian Electric and CBRE Subscriber Organizations have agreed to adhere to a “CBRE Subscriber Bill of Rights,” which can be found here.
  • Enjoy the benefits. Once enough subscribers are signed up for a CBRE project, the Subscriber Organization contracts with Hawaiian Electric to sell the kWh generated by the CBRE project at a fixed credit rate. The credit rates vary depending on the island. Each month, the subscriber will receive a bill credit applied to their electric bill. The amount credited represents the subscriber’s share of electricity generated by the CBRE project and delivered to Hawaiian Electric.

To learn more on how to participate in the CBRE program, visit Hawaiian Electric’s CBRE Online Portal Demonstration, which provides a step-by-step tutorial on how to enroll in the program:  Hawaiian Electric’s CBRE Online Portal Demonstration.