FERC Announces Rule Changes for Interconnections of Small Renewable Energy Systems

In a far-reaching decision, yesterday the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) adopted significant modifications to the agency’s Small Generator Interconnection Procedures (SGIP), which should facilitate a more efficient interconnection process for small renewable generators.

stock - onepanel1“FERC’s rule changes are an important step forward for interconnection in the United States,” said Jane Weissman, president and CEO of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).  “The changes will enable utilities to more effectively process applications for small generators, while maintaining the safety and reliability of the interconnection process – critically important as the country begins to experience a greater penetration of renewables on transmission and distribution circuits.”

The final language of the rule has not yet been released, but based upon the summary provided by FERC, two particularly significant modifications to the review process were authorized that will enable a greater number of small renewable generators to safely interconnect quickly without the need for a lengthy study process.

First, the current SGIP Fast Track size limit was modified by adopting an approach pioneered by IREC’s work. Instead of utilizing a single threshold across the entire system, IREC proposed adopting a size limit that would vary depending upon the generator type, the voltage of the line at the point of interconnection, the thickness of the wire, and the generator’s distance from the substation.

IREC developed this approach after hearing from utilities across the country regarding the relevant factors that determine what size generator can safely interconnect at different points on the system without the need for detailed study.  Instead of limiting Fast Track access to generators sized below 2 MW, the newly adopted rule will allow certain appropriately located, inverter-based generators up to 5 MWs to interconnect using this expedited process.

Second, in response to the growing volume of interconnection applications and the number of circuits that are starting to see high penetrations of renewables, FERC modified the supplemental review process to incorporate a 100 percent of minimum load screen along with two additional technical screens that evaluate a generators’ impact on safety, reliability and power quality.

Under this modified rule, if a generator fails any of the initial Fast Track review screens, including the contested 15 percent of peak load screen, it can choose to be reviewed under the supplemental review screens rather than proceeding to full study.

“IREC helped to develop these proposed changes through active engagement with a wide range of stakeholders across the country,” said Sky Stanfield of Keyes, Fox & Wiedman, LLP, who represents IREC in regulatory matters. “We believe these changes at the federal level reflect best practices on interconnection and will act as a model for state procedures across the country.”  Michael Sheehan, an electrical engineer working on behalf of IREC, agrees.  “These updated rules will ensure that small renewable projects meet the safety and reliability needs of both the energy end-user and the utility.”

IREC worked in both California and Hawaii on the development of this improved process and believes it will help maintain the efficiency of the interconnection process across the country.

In its ruling, FERC also adopted an innovative Pre-Application Report that will enable generators to access greater information about existing system conditions prior to submitting a formal application. This process is expected to reduce the overall volume of interconnection requests and help make more efficient use of the existing distribution system. IREC assisted with the development of this process in California and Massachusetts and strongly supports its adoption at FERC.

Finally, FERC’s rule modifications allow generators the opportunity to comment on any upgrades that are determined by the utility to be necessary for interconnection of their system.

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