White paper calls for central database listing solar interconnection upgrade costs

Blackburn and IL-Solar

Today, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released a white paper detailing the comprehensive interconnection reforms needed to rapidly decarbonise the power grid. Across the country, state and federal leaders are doubling down on their clean energy goals, but distribution companies and regional transmission organizations (RTOs) struggle to keep up with overcrowded interconnection queues.

The new white paper, “Lessons from the Frontline: Principles and Recommendations for Large-Scale and Distributed Energy Interconnection Reform,” discusses the various opportunities that utilities and regulators have to standardize, automate, and clarify interconnection procedures and policies.

“If we don’t make major strides in interconnection reform in the coming years, it will be impossible to meet our more aggressive state and national clean energy goals,” said Sean Gallagher, VP of state and regulatory affairs at SEIA. “Improving project interconnection must become an urgent priority for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, distribution companies and state commissions if we are to build a just clean energy economy this decade.”

The key to avoiding blockages in the interconnection is providing more information to companies about the operation of the transmission and distribution network. Policies should also build accountability and consequences for utility failures. New cost-sharing models for transmission and distribution system upgrades will make it easier to connect projects to the grid and reduce overall project costs.

By creating a central database for interconnection upgrade costs, project developers can make more informed decisions when considering an interconnection application submission. Better transparency will clarify utility overheads and create downward pricing pressure on monopolistic utilities that currently have no incentives or requirements to disclose pricing information.

“Transparency is the most important part of interconnection reform,” said David Gahl, executive director of the Solar and Storage Industries Institute (SI2) and former senior director of state policy at SEIA, East. “Companies are in the dark when it comes to grid planning and how much infrastructure upgrades can cost, increasing the likelihood of interconnection applications being withdrawn. This white paper describes the many ways lawmakers and regulators can eliminate this gambling game and put us on the path to meeting the president’s climate goals.”

Utilities and RTOs should standardize queue management processes and focus on hiring more employees with dedicated expertise, the white paper says. Web-based portals that enable online application submission and rapid information exchange will also help streamline the interconnection process. In addition, utilities and RTOs need to automate as many processes as possible to reduce delays and speed up the time it takes to process and study requests.

In the long run, the white paper says regulators should consider more systemic changes for RTOs and utilities, such as flexible interconnection agreements. These agreements, already in place in Europe, can be used to connect the resource to the grid without major infrastructure costs.

SEIA’s regulatory experts have consulted with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on its transmission and interconnection plans and recently submitted recommendations to FERC’s Joint Federal-State Task Force on Electric Transmission. On June 16, FERC is expected to publish a proposed rule that will address many of the same topics mentioned herein white paper

News item from SEIA

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