The turn of the calendar year is always a good time to reflect on the past year’s accomplishments so we can gauge how far we’ve come (and where we’re headed). Despite a few setbacks in the regulatory sphere, it seems the general direction of policy across the country has been trending in a positive direction, helping the renewable energy community adapt to evolving markets and a fluctuating economy. To that end, I give you Connecting to the Grid’s 10 Most Significant Policy Accomplishments of 2013 (in no particular order).
- Federal Action Set New Model for States. In November, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) adopted significant modifications to its Small Generator Interconnection Procedures (SGIP), providing more efficient, cost effective and flexible rules for Fast Track-eligible generators. Because so many state procedures are based on the FERC SGIP, this policy update could be highly influential at the state level in the years to come.
- State Interconnection Reform had a Banner Year–Massachusetts, Washington and Ohio all revised their rules substantially, and California continued to focus on Rule 21. Through these states’ impressive efforts, we see a definite trend toward efficiency, flexibility and lower costs for distributed generation interconnection, which will help these states accommodate higher penetrations of solar going forward.
- Additional Net Metering Fees Rejected – Louisiana and Idaho set an encouraging precedent this past year when commissions in those states struck down additional fees for net metering customers. Georgia Power also withdrew a proposal to add hefty fees to solar customers’ bills after the Georgia PSC staff recommended against adopting the utility proposal. In Arizona, however, additional net metering fee proposals were tamped down but eventually approved at $0.70/kilowatt/month for net metering customers. This is a worrisome precedent as the fee was adopted without any study of cost-benefit analyses.
- Net Metering Expanded – While there wasn’t much movement among state net metering policies in 2013, New York tripled the aggregate participation caps for the state’s major utilities to accommodate their expanding renewable energy goals and changing market. Vermont has been examining the potential to continue net metering after program caps have been met, and Massachusetts continued its innovative system of net metering assurance.
- Value of Solar Examined– California, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, North Carolina, Arizona, and other states have been engaging in various efforts to determine the value that distributed generation brings to the grid. These discussions offer opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions on the topic and highlight the many, often-uncounted benefits of distributed solar.
- Shared Solar Surged Ahead – Shared and community solar programs across the country continue to expand at an unprecedented pace to include those who couldn’t otherwise participate in solar. Colorado, California, Minnesota, D.C., Orlando Utilities Commission, Tennessee Valley Authority and others all approved new programs or expanded existing ones.
- Energy Storage Goal Set National Precedent – In October, the California PUC established a groundbreaking energy storage target of 1,325 megawatts for the state’s investor-owned utilities. This decision will be instrumental in helping California meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals and integrate higher penetrations of renewable energy.
- Distribution Planning Helped Meet State Goals – Over the past year, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and California have been planning for a future that can accommodate high penetrations of solar on the grid. These proactive approaches will go a long way toward preventing future problems and enable progressive states to meet increasingly challenging energy goals.
- Permitting Reform Made Easier – Solar permitting has been quietly taking a more prominent role in the national dialogue over the past few years. Due to the local nature of this topic, it is difficult to track all the different improvements that have been made across the United States. With the development of new websites (and some great resources from IREC) local jurisdictions are now better equipped than ever to tackle permitting reform. As a result, the country has seen a number of significant regional efforts take hold, which enable jurisdictions to learn from each other and help to standardize the process for different markets.
- General Market Expansion Continued – We could lump a number of things into this category, but there were a few standouts. Minnesota enacted a sweeping new energy bill covering, among other issues, net metering, value of solar and shared solar. And in New York, Governor Cuomo expanded the NY-SUN initiative to provide long-term funding over the next 10 years ensuring the growth of the solar industry across the state.
As we gear up for a busy year ahead, we are buoyed by these and other achievements in 2013. We are looking forward to meeting the challenges of continued market growth with new and innovative policy strategies in 2014 – please stay in touch and help keep us up to date with what’s going on in your area of the country.
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