MA Action Significantly Improves Interconnection

Last week, Massachusetts formally adopted improvements to its interconnection procedures that make it easier for small renewable energy systems to connect to the distribution grid, without compromising safety or power quality. MA joins a handful of other leading states, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), adopting use of a 100 percent of minimum load penetration screen in its supplemental review process.

Most simply, this is a recognition that smaller systems have less complex review needs. It allows utilities to effectively review and process more applications in less time, while still ensuring system safety and reliability. And the improved procedure should save both utilities and renewable project developers time and money by avoiding unnecessary study.

IREC supports the use of 100 percent of minimum load as a national best practice for the supplemental review penetration screen. We’re pleased to see Massachusetts join California, Hawaii, Ohio and FERC with this action.

As interest in renewable energy increases nationwide, Massachusetts is responding to its increased numbers of interconnection applications. The Massachusetts Technical Standards Review Group (TSRG) earlier this year recommended that the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) use 100 percent of minimum load as the supplemental review penetration screen – rather than the current, conservative 67 percent screen – allowing utilities there to expedite the interconnection process for small systems.

The TSRG’s recommendation reflected its substantiated conclusion that using 100 percent of minimum load, combined with the other two supplemental review screens, does not raise technical concerns for the grid. The TSRG consists of seven members: four utility representatives as well as three non-utility representatives from the solar and combined head and power industries, and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. All TSRG members are engineers and the DPU tasked the group with evaluating technical issues related to distributed generation. The MA DPU’s order closes the loop on a more than two-year-long process to revise the Commonwealth’s interconnection procedures.The utilities must file compliance tariffs within 30 days of the order.

The latest MA action also establishes a timeline enforcement mechanism. While IREC was not involved in its original development, it did submit public comments on the enforcement mechanism, which are reflected in the final order. We’re not aware of any other state that has penalties directly tied to utilities’ interconnection timeline compliance, which can be a contentious issue. This mechanism is an interesting development and perhaps a model for other states, although it remains to be seen how well it will work in practice.

In addition, the order extends the role of an interconnection ombudsperson to resolve interconnection-related disputes, which it describes as an “unqualified success” after 12 months in existence.

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