IREC interconnection grades highlight need for reforms to support clean energy growth

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The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) released its Freeing the Grid interconnection grades, showing room for improvement in the United States.

The grades assess each of the United States, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico on the quality of its interconnection policies. These policies govern how distributed energy resources (DERs) — such as solar and energy storage systems — can safely and reliably connect to the distribution grid. Freeing the Grid is a joint initiative of IREC and Vote Solar that grades states on key policies that help to increase clean energy adoption and access to the grid.

“The 2023 Freeing the Grid interconnection grades make clear that a majority of states have significant room for improvement in their interconnection procedures,” said IREC president and CEO Larry Sherwood. “Without improvements to align with new best practices that have emerged over the last several years, state interconnection policies are likely to be a barrier to the efficient and affordable growth of DERs, holding back the pace at which clean energy and climate goals can be met.”

The grades are based on 10 categories of criteria reflecting key considerations to ensure interconnection policies support rather than hinder clean energy market growth. The criteria include cost, efficiency, transparency and the technologies eligible to interconnect.

Of the 39 states and territories that have statewide interconnection procedures, only one state, New Mexico, received an A for its interconnection rules. An additional 6 states (ArizonaCalifornia, the District of ColumbiaIllinoisMichigan and New York) received B’s. The remaining states received a C grade or lower. Another 13 states have not adopted statewide interconnection rules and received F grades (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming). 

“Effective interconnection procedures are critical to ensuring accessible, affordable, and reliable clean energy for communities across the country,” said Vote Solar executive director Sachu Constantine. “As these Freeing the Grid interconnection grades show, states must strengthen interconnection policies to accelerate the equitable growth of solar and other distributed energy resources and harness the unprecedented benefits available through the Inflation Reduction Act.” 

Because interconnection rules dictate how DER projects are reviewed and approved for operation on the electric grid, they determine how efficiently new clean energy resources can connect to the grid. If they allow for a transparent and expedited review process and provide sufficient clarity around timelines and other expectations, states are more likely to avoid backlogs that can leave projects languishing in clogged interconnection queues and delays that can stretch for months or years. Severe interconnection delays have become an increasingly common challenge across the Unites States as the volume of DER interconnection requests has grown. 

Given the importance for a state to standardize and codify interconnection practices, IREC’s state interconnection grades are based only onpolicies and practices explicitly included or referenced in a state’s interconnection rules, and therefore applicable to all jurisdictional utilities. This provides greater transparency into the process for both utilities and interconnection customers, ensures that interconnection applicants have a process that can be referenced if disputes arise, and ultimately provides utility accountability for any process delays.

The grades do not reflect interconnection provisions included in non-statewide interconnection rules, such as public utility commission orders that have not been formally adopted in the rules or individual utility technical documents. There are some instances in which the on-the-ground implementation of a state’s interconnection rules differs from what is required in a state’s interconnection rules, which is not reflected in the grades. 

The state grades included in Freeing the Grid are intended to assist policymakers and other stakeholders with identifying policy best practices for enabling the rapid growth of DERs. They also provide a basis for states to benchmark their existing policies against those adopted in other states. While this release focuses on interconnection grades, future Freeing the Grid updates will cover other critical policies to increase clean energy adoption and access, including net metering and other DER compensation policies. 

To explore the Freeing the Grid interconnection grades, visit FreeingtheGrid.org. Interested stakeholders can also register for a free webinar at 1 p.m. ET on July 12. The webinar will provide an overview of the Freeing the Grid interconnection scoring criteria and methodology; key takeaways from the 2023 interconnection grades; and a discussion of how states can improve their interconnection rules. 

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