California Set to Simplify Interconnection Rules for Distributed Energy Resources

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Diving brief:

  • California regulators on Thursday approved a resolution which clean energy advocates say will dramatically simplify the interconnection processes that the state’s distributed energy resources, or DERs, will need to navigate.
  • Under the new system, DER projects that wish to interconnect with the California grid will go through a review process that uses “integration capability analysis” – essentially, a model of grid conditions that provides a image of the electrical system’s carrying capacity, or the amount of power it can handle without requiring infrastructure upgrades.
  • California is the first state to adopt such a system, which could also offer potential to others. “Other states will be watching what happens and its success, and we certainly hope other states will move towards this process,” said Sky Stanfield, partner of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger..

Overview of the dive:

California’s interconnection process, like that of most states, is divided into different levels of review, including the “fast track” process, which uses a set of standard screens to assess whether a particular project might have impacts on the system that would require study and possibly distribution. system upgrades, according to Stanfield.

These screens haven’t changed much over the past two decades and present two challenges for developers: first, project applicants don’t have much visibility on whether or not they will pass the screens without more information on the conditions of the distribution system that they are compared to, and two, some of the screens are quite conservative and may require some projects to conduct studies unnecessarily, she said.

“We have a very high volume of distributed energy resources both in interconnect demand and already on the grid in California and so it both becomes more difficult to find the places where there is available capacity, and we have to continue to become more and more efficient in how we interconnect these projects, ”said Stanfield.

Under the new roles, projects that represent less than 90% of the available capacity according to the Integration Capacity Analysis will be able to pass the review, while those that do not pass are subject to additional reviews. However, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Councilthe resolution also improves these review processes and will likely allow more distributed resources to come online.

The new process will potentially allow more projects to go through the fast-track process, meaning they could be interconnected in months versus months to a year or more, said Stanfield, counsel for IREC in the CPUC proceeding. .

“This creates a more efficient and transparent interconnection process for projects where there is capacity on the grid for those projects,” Stanfield said. In doing so, the new framework should help better direct projects to locations where there is capacity on the network and minimize the time utilities and developers spend pursuing projects where there is not. of capacity.

The resolution is an important step in forcing California utilities to think about accommodation capacity on an hourly basis, rather than only planning around minimum annual capacity, said Brad Heavner, director of policy at California Solar & Storage Association, in an email.

“There are still unknowns in its implementation, but if done well, it will avoid many unnecessary studies when projects are clearly within the capacity of the existing network,” he added.

Simultaneously, the CPUC is taking a closer look at revising the state’s current net energy metering program, which provides financial credits to customers who generate their own electricity and export it to their utility.

The agency released a proposed rate structure in December, which drew swift and strong criticism from the solar industry and other clean energy advocates, due to its potential to shrink the solar market. California residential. The agency delayed scheduling a vote on the proposal, and in May a CPUC administrative law judge reopened the case by asking stakeholders to comment on several aspects of the proposal.