Solar power is booming! Every day in the U.S., Developers are installing enough new photovoltaic generating capacity to power 17,000 homes at peak output. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a total of 2,051 megawatts of new PV was deployed in the second quarter of 2016 alone.
This unrelenting growth creates challenges for both project proponents and the interconnecting utilities alike. TRC experts are involved with reviewing hundreds of interconnection applications for our utility partners every year, and we’ve learned many important lessons about the most successful strategies for reducing the time and costs associated with interconnecting projects rated at 1 megawatt or greater.
Here are some important do’s and don’ts to consider for successful interconnections.
It is critical that Developers (or their representatives) understand a utility’s preferred method for managing the interconnection application process and are aware of the key contacts from the outset.
Some, but not all, utilities make preferred interconnection location information available on their websites; however, this data is usually limited to interconnection requests 20 MW or larger on transmission systems locations at 115 kV or higher.
For initial costs, Developers should expect to submit an interconnection request fee and deposit that can range from $10,000 to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the size of the project.
Most utilities also make their interconnection requirements available on their websites. Utilities that provide service in multiple States may have specific requirements for each State. Getting access to other data may require a phone call to a member of a utility “interconnections group” or it may require the submission of a more formal written request for information.
Once the interconnection application is complete, the Developer’s work has just begun. The interconnection process normally include a series of impact studies be completed that will require Developer support. Diligent planning and preparation prior to the start will help to limit the Developer’s effort during these impact studies; however, timely response to any and all utility requests during the studies will be key to keeping the project on schedule during this effort.
Depending on the size and location of the interconnection, impact studies may include a high level Feasibility Study, followed by a more detailed System Impact Study. Both these studies will provide insight on required Network Upgrades to be constructed with the project. Each study should allow Developers to more accurately estimate total construction costs of the requested project.
Prior to the start of construction, for all interconnection requests regardless of the size, a Facilities Study is typically required in order to verify all the utility facilities and operational procedures that may be affected by the operation of the project.
Please note, that Interconnection agreements at distribution voltages may require another layer of state regulatory oversight. This extra layer may create new hurdles that will need to be overcome prior to commercial operation of the requested interconnection. However, the interconnecting utility’s “distribution interconnection group” should be available to help Developers through the appropriate regulatory steps.
Ultimately, preparation is key. Taking the right steps at the outset of a project makes all the difference when it comes to staying on schedule and on budget. A successful project depends on whether a developer has received the right advice and done their homework. Work with a trusted partner like TRC, make sure you investigate and resolve any land and permitting issues, complete the necessary preliminary engineering-work with the interconnecting utility early-on, and know the steps and details required to accurately complete the Generator Interconnection Agreement.