- California regulators on Thursday approved a resolution that 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 want to interconnect to California’s grid will go through a review process that uses the “integration capacity analysis” – essentially, a model of grid conditions that provides a picture of the hosting capacity of the electric system, or the amount of power output it can handle without requiring infrastructure upgrades.
- California is the first state to adopt such a system, which could offer potential to others as well. “Other states will be watching what happens and how successful this is, and we hope certainly that other states will move towards this process,” Sky Stanfield, partner with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, said.
California’s interconnection process, like most states’, is broken into different tiers of review, including the “fast track” process, which uses a set of standard screens to evaluate whether a particular project could have system impacts that would require a study and potentially distribution system upgrades, according to Stanfield.
Those screens haven’t changed much in the last two decades, and present two challenges to developers: firstly, project applicants don’t have a lot of visibility into whether or not they will pass the screens without more information on the distribution system conditions they are being compared to, and secondly, some of the screens are quite conservative and may require some projects to conduct studies unnecessarily, she said.
“We have a really high volume of distributed energy resources both applying for interconnection, and already on the grid in California — and so it’s both becoming harder to find those spots where there is capacity available, and we need to keep getting more and more efficient in how we interconnect these projects,” Stanfield said.
Under the new roles, projects that are less than 90% of available capacity per the integration capacity analysis will be able to pass the screen, while those that do not pass are subject to additional reviews. However, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, the resolution also improves those review processes and will likely allow more distributed resources to come online.
The new process will potentially allow more projects to pass through the fast track process, which means they could get interconnected in a matter of months versus many months to a year or more, Stanfield, an attorney for IREC in the CPUC proceeding, said.
“It creates a more efficient and more transparent interconnection process for projects where there is capacity on the grid for those projects,” Stanfield said. By doing that, the new framework should help better direct projects to the locations where there is capacity on the grid, and minimize the amount of time utilities and developers spend pursuing projects where there isn’t capacity.
The resolution is an important step in forcing California utilities to think of hosting capacity on an hourly basis, rather than planning solely around minimum annual capacity, Brad Heavner, policy director with the California Solar & Storage Association, said in an email.
“There are still unknowns in its implementation, but if done right it will avoid a lot of unnecessary study when projects are clearly within the existing grid capacity,” 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 back to their utility.
The agency released a proposed tariff structure in December, which drew swift and strong criticism from the solar industry and other clean energy advocates, due to its potential to shrink California’s residential solar market. The agency has held off on scheduling a vote on the proposal and in May, a CPUC administrative law judge reopened the record in the proceeding by asking stakeholders to weigh in on multiple aspects of the proposal.