Milwaukee, Wisconsin 2021-09-25 07:00:08 –
By FRANK JOSSI
Energy news network
NS. Paul, Minnesota (AP) — The number of solar projects in Minnesota, stagnant due to delays due to Xcel Energy, has grown to more than 300, and solar industry leaders are clearing at the current pace of utilities. It says it will take decades.
In one case in central Minnesota, Xcel told its customers that it would have to wait 15 years for the company to review an application for connecting a 9.5 kilowatt rooftop system to a utility grid.
“This is the number one issue I’ve heard from members. I get an email every day about this,” said Logan O’Grady, Executive Secretary of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association.
An association analysis concluded that at the current pace, Xcel Energy would take about 260 years to clear the request backlog. Most of the people waiting are community solar projects on the outskirts of Twin Cities.
In a statement to regulators, Xcel Energy said it was aware that it “did not meet the expectations of the Commission and its customers.” The utility recently said it will accelerate and cover some of the cost of grid upgrades required for small installations by homeowners and businesses since October.
But hundreds of large projects are still at a loss, and solar developers are calling for further reforms, including third-party investigations of the process and legal action if it doesn’t improve.
Utility regulators in Minnesota and PV stakeholders negotiate improvements to state interconnect rules that govern how utilities respond to requests to connect distributed generation to the grid. Especially, I’ve spent many years. Highly technical and regulated processes require weeks or months of research and due diligence to ensure that the project does not compromise the reliability of the grid.
The latest reforms came into effect in the summer of 2019 with the aim of shortening the approval period. Instead, the process was even slower, with Xcel finally paying a $ 1 million fine to resolve 120 customer complaints that year. Last year was no exception, with Xcel being delayed by more than half at each step in the interconnection process, even on small residential systems. By August of this year, utilities had 316 applications “on hold” due to capacity constraints, an increase of 86% over last year.
Most of the backlog consists of community solar projects that you want to connect to in a crowded suburb. Community solar subscribers must live in the county where the garden is located or in an adjacent county. Due to this limitation, solar developers are having a hard time finding land in the suburbs.
Only 37 applications awaiting approval are small solar projects for homes and businesses, with 15 years of waiting notices. Starting in October, utilities have said they will pay solar rewards home customers up to $ 15,000 in power distribution energy upgrades, a problem that came to mind in Northfield earlier this year.
Xcel reported that 15% of its transmission line and substation networks are responsible for most of the community’s solar projects. “The explosive growth of CSG (Community Solar Garden) with policy development has spawned some of our twin-sounding feeders.
Metropolitan areas have become saturated with DER (Distributed Energy Resources), many projects have been put on hold, and small systems have faced their own challenges, “the utility wrote in the filing.
In a statement to the Energy News Network last week, Xcel said it was hiring engineers and other solar experts to work on the application. We plan to require the Public Utility Commission to invite developers to participate in cluster or group research so that they can reserve system capacity for small PV installations.
As in the past, Xcel emphasized that Minnesota’s community solar program remains the country’s largest, “to allow the Commission to provide additional direction for its vision to balance grid reliability and performance. Proposed a regulatory path to meet the needs of our customers and the PV industry. “
At least one solar developer claims that the problem goes beyond these crowded areas. Julian White, a partner at Nokomis Energy, said the company identified a less congested substation and still had prolonged delays. The project timeline that Nokomis wrote in his regulatory submissions doubled from 110 days to 244 days when considering pending projects.
According to Isabel Ricker, senior clean power manager at Fresh Energy, a non-profit environmental policy group that also publishes the Energy News Network, the basic overview of the state’s interconnect process is flawless, but can be tweaked. increase.
“In general, I feel that the problem is the result of the Xcel implementation and internal processes, rather than the problem of the (interconnection process) language itself,” Ricker said. “There are certainly some areas where we need to add more details, change the wording, and clarify.”
Solar industry leaders say the state is quitting work until the delay is resolved. The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association has estimated that an unapproved solar project pipeline will create 750 to 900 jobs.
Last year, regulators asked Minnesota utilities for suggestions that could accelerate clean energy investment to revitalize the economy. One good way to do this is to move your solar project forward with Xcel’s interconnect queues.
“The broader idea is that there are still 300 MW left in those queues, and that’s an economic recovery. They’re local jobs,” White said. “For me, it has always been a kind of headache. These are megawatts, which can get people to work right now and can save money right now.”