FERC Revises Interconnection Procedures

a guest post by Ken Whiteside, Director of Business Development at ONTILITY, LLC.

FERC Revises Interconnection Procedures

One way to measure the success of the solar energy market is to look at the growing number of small grid-tied systems. For this market to continue to thrive, we must ensure that these systems can access the grid safely and cost-effectively. And this means acknowledging that small systems need smaller hoops to jump through for evaluation of their safety and effectiveness.

As I've written about before, public policy, along with advanced technology and sound financing options, is one of the three keys to solar market growth, and last week, we saw an important policy shift. The federal Small Generator Interconnection Procedures (SGIP) were updated for the first time since their initial adoption in 2005.

While it is only some wholesale distributed generators that are required to use the federal interconnection procedures (most small generators are interconnected using state-jurisdictional procedures), this action by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sets a positive tone for states to adopt similar interconnection standards. Plus, if states want to support the growth of their market, they need to ensure that interconnection does not become an obstacle.

The revised procedures reduce the number of unnecessary and costly interconnection studies that must be conducted, so utilities can avoid the challenge of managing lengthy interconnection queues and thus, lower the overall cost of renewable energy and help maximize use of existing infrastructure.

Most importantly, the updated procedures ensure that these improvements do not undermine the safety and reliability of the grid.

Key points in the FERC order include:

  • Creating a pre-application report process that provides generators, in exchange for a reasonable fee, with technical information about a particular point of interconnection. This information will assist them in evaluating the potential costs and timeframe associated with interconnecting at that point.
  • Increasing the size of systems that can proceed through SGIP’s expedited review process or “Fast Track.” The new, more technically based, limit looks at the system type and location as well as its size. This should allow a greater number of systems with capacities up to 5 MW to qualify for Fast Track approval.
  • Improving the supplemental review process to allow more projects to be approved without a full study. The new process also provides utilities with additional time to verify that eligible generators will not create safety, reliability or power quality impacts to the grid. As distributed generation reaches higher penetration levels, these new procedures create a pathway for efficient interconnection up to 100 percent of minimum load.

Rolling out the revised SGIP at the state level will take time and effort, but again FERC is exhibiting leadership by acknowledging the growth and penetration of distributed generation from renewable sources, and acting positively and creatively to guide that growth.

Ken Whiteside photo Ken Whiteside has been a fan of solar energy for decades. His first hands-on experience was installing solar on off-grid houses around Telluride, Colorado in the 1990’s (summer in the San Juan Mtns. - somebody had to do it). From his home in Austin, Ken writes and works for widespread adoption of solar electricity, smart energy production and use, and sustainability.

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