Solar stakeholders are praising the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) for adopting changes to the state’s Standardized Interconnection Requirements (SIR), which dictate how renewable energy and distributed generation systems sized up to 5 MW are connected to the distribution grid.
According to a joint press release from the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CASE) and the New York Solar Energy Industries Association (NYSEIA), the PSC’s decision provides additional clarity and certainty to the interconnection process and will enable more solar development throughout New York, including community solar.
The decision approves the recommendations put forth jointly by the members of the Interconnection Policy Working Group (IPWG). The New York Department of Public Service (DPS) staff and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) organized and led the IPWG, which consists of a diverse group including the state’s investor-owned utilities, a number of the CCSA and NYSEIA member companies, and other stakeholders.
“We thank the commission for its action to remove key hurdles to community solar development and for creating a forum in which utilities and solar companies could work together effectively on solutions to advance clean energy development,” says Jeff Cramer, executive director of CCSA. “This marks one of the final puzzle pieces in making New York’s much-anticipated community solar market a reality.”
“Putting queue management and limited cost sharing into action, as outlined by the IPWG, is a significant step to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the interconnection process in New York,” adds Valessa Souter-Kline, policy coordinator for NYSEIA. “The new process reflects the commitment of both the development community and the utilities to ensure that project applications move forward fairly and efficiently, resulting in more clean solar energy generation in the ground.
“NYSEIA and its member companies have been deeply engaged in the IPWG and look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with DPS, NYSERDA, the utilities, and the rest of the IPWG to implement the new procedures and to continue to work on additional critical improvements to the processes for solar interconnection,’ adds Souter-Kline.
Under the existing policy in New York state, when developers submit an application for interconnection to a utility’s distribution grid, they are placed in a pipeline while the utility studies their project to determine what upgrades to the local electric system would be required to connect the project to the grid, as well as how much those upgrades would cost. According to the solar groups, the presence of proposed projects ahead of an application in this “queue” can have profound impacts on the costs and timelines for interconnection regardless of whether the other proposed projects are ever built.
The PSC’s decision makes a number of important changes that are expected to increase the efficiency and transparency of this process. It requires applicants in the queue to demonstrate proof of property owner consent within 30 days so that highly speculative projects are not taking up valuable space in the queue. Additionally, it requires developers to abide by binding decision-making and payment timelines to ensure that projects move along at a reasonable pace and that non-viable projects do not forestall projects that follow in the queue from moving forward in the most efficient manner possible.
The solar groups add that the decision also takes an important first step toward more equitable distribution of grid upgrade costs among solar projects utilizing common upgrades that benefit more than one project.
“Community solar companies stand ready to invest tens of millions of dollars in private capital to upgrade public energy infrastructure,” says Cramer, adding that the newly adopted cost-sharing mechanism represents “a smarter way to handle those upgrades.”
“An efficient, transparent interconnection queue process and a fair way to share the costs of upgrading our electric system will be increasingly important to meeting the growing demand for community solar,” adds Hannah Masterjohn, CCSA board chair and vice president of policy and eegulatory affairs at community solar company Clean Energy Collective. “We appreciate the collaboration of the New York utilities in this process, and we look forward to working with our colleagues across the state to bring local clean power to more New Yorkers through community solar.”