Following a more than five-fold increase in New York interconnection applications, state regulators recently eased requirements for microgrids, solar and other distributed generation to connect to the grid.
The state made the change after interconnection applications increased from 2,000 in 2012 to 11,000 in 2015, further delaying a review process that developers often complain is difficult, lengthy and holds up projects — not just in New York but other states as well. The review is required to ensure the interconnection is safe and doesn’t jeopardize the utility system.
To speed the process, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) recently changed regulations so that larger projects can undergo a standardized review. The commission also lowered up-front application costs and streamlined steps.
Audrey Zibelman, PSC chair, said that the new regulations will make it easier for distributed generation developers to work with utilities to find the best places to connect and “protect the environment, lower energy costs and improve the efficiency and reliability of the electric grid.”
The new rules mark a partial win for distributed generation interests. The state increased the size of projects that can undergo standard interconnection review from 2 MW to 5 MW. But several parties said the threshold should be higher. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council had recommended New York do away with all size limits. And the Solar Energy Industries Association, Cornell University, New York City and others asked New York to follow other states that set 20 MW as the upper limit.
The commission decided against going above a 5 MW threshold because many projects of that size directly interconnect to the transmission system instead of the distribution system. The process is then handled by the New York Independent System Operator and transmission owners.
Other rule changes made by the commission include reducing upfront application costs to 25 percent. Previously, applicants had to pay 100 percent upfront. The commission also amended the rules so that utilities can more-easily process and analyze applications.
In addition, the state created ombudsman services to assist with the interconnection process and an Interconnect Working Group, made up of representatives from the Department of Public Services, New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, utilities, the New York Solar Energy Industry Association, and a few individual installers. The ombudsmen service will work on issues regarding individual installations, while the working group will work to solve technical interconnect problems that affect large numbers of projects.
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New York sees the new interconnection process as a way to increase progress toward creating a decentralized grid, a key goal of its sweeping Reforming the Energy Vision. In addition to encouraging microgrid development through the $40 million NY Prize, the state has been aggressively incentivizing solar. From 2012 -2015, New York saw a 575 percent rise in the amount of solar power installed and in development. The state has a goal to meet half of its electricity with renewable energy by 2030.
“While other states have recently slowed solar development through regulatory actions, New York has strongly embraced the development of renewable power as it considers changes to encourage and promote the financing and installation of solar and other clean-power sources,” said Zibelman.
The full order, Case 15-M-0127, can be found on the New York PSC website.