Illinois rule changes will simplify solar + storage interconnection
On Wednesday, May 25, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) made several changes to the state’s rules governing how distributed energy resources (DERs), such as rooftop solar panels and energy storage systems, connect to the state’s electrical distribution grid. The revisions to the Illinois interconnection rules include a number of positive developments that will streamline the interconnection process and reduce the time and cost of connecting clean energy to the grid. They will also make it easier to use energy storage and provide greater transparency on the results of interconnection assessments.
The changes reflect current best practices established through a joint research and policy project by utilities and clean energy advocates, resulting in a toolkit with solutions for improving the interconnection of energy storage projects (“the BATRIES Toolkit”). As one of the first states to adopt these energy storage interconnection best practices, Illinois continues to maintain its role as a leader in climate change solutions. These changes build on Illinois’ landmark Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) passed last year, one of the nation’s most comprehensive state climate and energy laws.
“These changes in interconnection governance are necessary for the future of our energy grid and are the foundation for groundbreaking programs promised by CEJA,” said Will Kenworthy, Regulatory Director at Vote Solar. “The changes to the ICC will ensure that CEJA’s renewable energy projects can be easily integrated into the grid and provide clean, reliable energy for everyone.”
These improvements resulted from the involvement of several public interest groups, including the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), Vote Solar, and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
“These advanced updates to the Illinois interconnection process will allow for more renewable energy to be added to the state’s power grid and provide a model for other states looking to lead the way toward a clean energy future,” IREC said. regulatory VP Radina. valova.
One of the major changes is establishing protocols for utilizing some of the unique features of energy storage that will allow the state grid to accommodate higher levels of renewable energy. That’s because, combined with energy storage, DER projects can limit the amount of energy they send to the grid (“non-export” and “limited-export” projects). The amount of electricity a project will send to the grid is an important factor in whether it can be connected without lengthy study or expensive equipment upgrades to ensure grid safety and reliability. Projects that export less or no electricity to the grid are less likely to have problems.
Because energy storage is a newer technology, most interconnection regulations do not yet recognize the ability to restrict exports or have guidelines for handling such projects. The revised Illinois interconnection rules now recognize limited and non-export projects and establish different assessment approaches that reflect a project’s limited exports, where applicable, when assessing potential grid effects.
There are several other notable developments in the revised interconnection rules, including:
- Improvements in the way projects are ‘screened’ for potential grid impact, which will reduce the number of projects that need to go through time-consuming and costly study processes before being approved for interconnection.
- Requirements for utilities to provide greater information transparency to interconnection applicants, including details of grid constraints preventing their projects from proceeding as intended, and more detailed estimates of costs and timelines.
- A new path for developers to adapt their ongoing DER projects in response to information about grid limitations, increasing the likelihood of approval without having to revoke and reapply as was the case in the past.
All of these changes are expected to allow more projects to be successfully connected and accelerate the rate at which renewable energy can be added to the Illinois distribution grid.
“This will bring more renewable energy to the grid faster and cheaper while maintaining safety and reliability,” said Erica S. McConnell, staff attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The people of Illinois want clean power. We want it for our climate, for our public health and as a way to get our energy bills under control. These rules make it faster, more efficient and safer.”
While it’s an excellent starting point, one area where the changes fell short of recommendations from public interest groups is regarding data reporting requirements for state utilities. The Commission declined to require more detailed reporting requirements that would help the Commission and interested stakeholders to ensure that the interconnection process functions properly and that utilities meet their required obligations. Lack of data on utility performance metrics in the interconnection process is a common problem that hinders accountability and improvements.
News item from IREC