Renewables advocates ask Minnesota regulators to streamline DER interconnection

Dive Brief:

  • Renewables advocates Fresh Energy, Environmental Law & Policy Center, and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), filed a proposal with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission asking for a streamlining of the state’s interconnection standard.
  • The proposed standard, based on a 2014 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission model, would allow 40 kW and smaller distributed generation systems to be interconnected through a fast-track process that would simplify the fee structure and cut application handling from months to weeks, if not days.
  • The current interconnection standards require similar processing for 5 kW projects as they do for 5 MW projects, Midwest Energy News reports. The new proposal would create a special tier for systems 40 kW and smaller, remove barriers specific to the larger systems, and streamline processing of applications for smaller installations.

Dive Insight:

Similar to states like New York and California, Minnesota is also in the middle of a grid modernization proceeding that aims to rethink the utility's role in the electricity system, especially with regard to distributed resources. 

Interconnection standards "rise to the top of the many issues [the proceeding] shows need attention,” Commissioner Nancy Lange told Utility Dive last month. 

Minnesota’s 110 page interconnection standard has not been significantly updated since 2004 and its limitations were revealed in the 2015 controversy between Xcel Energy and community solar developers over how much solar could come onto the grid at any one site.

Throughout the proceeding, IREC has called for a more extensive review of interconnection best practices. It and other renewables advocates, the group filed a new interconnection proposal with regulators next week. 

But utilities may not be as eager to reform the standards as the state's DER providers. Minnesota Power, an investor-owned utility in the state, argued in the same proceeding that safe interconnection is not a matter of "plug and play," and requires analysis to avoid unintended consequences for customers.

Before 2004, “each utility had its own process and developers with qualifying facilities [under PURPA] were frustrated because the rules of the road were not consistent," Doug Larson, regulatory services vice president at the Dakota Electric Association recently told Utility Dive.

Though refinements could be made, the present standards work well for Dakota Electric customers, he added. "The current higher level of consistency helps the marketplace.”

Top image credit: Flickr; h080