The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) announced on May 12 that it had joined with two other advocacy organizations – Fresh Energy and the Environmental Law & Policy Center – in filing a joint motion with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission asking for an update in the standards for distributed energy resource (DER) interconnection so that the state can “remain consistent with industry standards.”
Interconnection standards specify the process that customers and utilities must follow when a customer seeks to connect a distributed generation resource, often a solar or wind system, to the electric grid. They specify technical engineering requirements, timelines, fees and standardized procedures for conducting utility studies to determine whether particular systems can be safely interconnected.
The joint motion formally requests that the commission reopen its 2004 interconnection order (Docket No. E-999/CI-01-1023) and adopt new interconnection procedures. “This motion,” the three organizations said, “is in response to problems with the interconnection process in Minnesota that were exposed during the launch of Xcel Energy’s Community Solar Gardens program. It also comes on the heels of specific calls by the commissioners to address interconnection in their comments on grid modernization.”
The filing notes that current procedures are now over a decade old. “The time is right for Minnesota to update its interconnection procedures to further the goals of its Grid Modernization Initiative and prepare Minnesota for a more integrated, diversified distribution grid with higher levels of distributed generation,” said IREC Regulatory Director Sara Baldwin Auck.
“Strong interconnection standards can provide predictable, streamlined, expedited, and cost-effective processes for all involved parties: the end-user energy consumer, the developer, and the utility.” Auck added.
More states, she said, are adopting procedures based on the FERC Small Generator Interconnection Procedures (SGIP) model and IREC Model Rules. This proposal seeks to align Minnesota’s interconnection procedures with this emerging national consensus, while also being responsive to local realities.
The filing proposes a system of rules that would:
- Provide consistency and ease of access to distributed generation project developers, who often operate in multiple states;
- Limit the administrative and regulatory burden for developers, allowing them to install projects and work with consumers in a streamlined fashion, bringing down administrative costs and minimizing inhibitory lag in the application review process, to the benefit of Minnesota customers; and
- Help avoid delays and unnecessary project costs that inhibit continued growth in small generating facilities and cause unnecessary costs to be passed on to consumers.
To demonstrate the need for an update, the filing notes that, in 2004, there were 235 distributed qualifying facilities on distribution utility systems in Minnesota, according to utility reporting to the Department of Commerce. By the end of 2014, there were 2,463 projects, with significantly more projects in the pipeline. These growth trends reflect much broader changes in the national industry.
In the Midwest region, Ohio, Illinois and Iowa, have all recently taken action to update their interconnection standards.