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Wednesday, November 30, 2011
PUC Breaks 15% Limit on Solar Systems
By News Release @ 11:53 PM :: 5529 Views :: Energy, Environment

News Release from Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, November 29, 2011

In a Decision and Order issued today, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (Commission) approved revisions to the HECO Companies’ Tariff Rule 14H, which governs the interconnection of distributed generating facilities, such as solar photovoltaic systems, operating in parallel with the HECO Companies’ electrical distribution system. The revisions are intended to facilitate increased penetration and the interconnection process.

The Commission’s November 29, 2011 Decision and Order is based on its review of a Partial Settlement Agreement Regarding Proposed Modifications to Rule 14H, filed on October 14, 2011 by the parties in the docket. “The Commission recognizes and appreciates the collective efforts of the parties to reach agreement on a number of revisions to the tariff through best practices, consensus and collaboration,” said Commission Chair Hermina Morita.

The Parties to the Agreement included (1) the applicants: Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Hawaii Electric Light Company, Maui Electric company, collectively called the HECO Companies; (2) the Division of Consumer Advocacy, an ex officio party to all Commission proceedings, and (3) entities who were granted formal intervention: Blue Planet Foundation, the Department of Business Economic 2 Development and Tourism, Hawaii Inspection Group, Inc., Hawaii PV Coalition, Hawaii Renewable Energy Alliance, Hawaii Solar Energy Association, South Maui Renewable Resource, LLC, The Solar Alliance, and Zero Emissions Leasing, LLC. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council was a participant in the proceeding.

A summary of the major revisions is listed below. The Decision and Order can be found on the Commission’s website, www.puc.hawaii.gov, under “Selected Dockets.”

  • A new, streamlined “Supplemental Review” mechanism was added to the overall interconnection process so that a proposed project would no longer automatically have to conduct an Interconnection Requirements Study (IRS) if the project fails initial technical screening criteria such as the “15% circuit penetration threshold.”
  • Supplemental Reviews would be conducted by the utility at no charge to a project and would be completed within 20 business days.
  • An IRS would not be required for inverter-based distributed generation (DG) systems if the aggregate DG penetration is below 50% of the distribution circuit demand during period when proposed generation is available (i.e., solar noon).
  • A flexible solution-based approach is instituted for DG projects that fail the ground-fault overvoltage technical screen in lieu of an IRS. This modification will benefit larger three-phase inverter-based DG projects.
  • Time limits are established for completion of certain major steps in the interconnection process.
  • DG projects have been provided with options to reduce the cost of conducting an IRS in the event that such a study is required.

“The Commission appreciated the willingness of the HECO Companies to work diligently with the other parties to implement a flexible and certain process for the interconnection of small renewable energy projects on its distribution systems,” said Commissioner John Cole.

The Commission’s Decision and Order is the second set of major revisions to Rule 14H. The first set, approved by a May 26, 2010 Commission Decision and Order, 3 included the following substantive revisions: (1) increasing the percentage of annual peak kilovolt-ampere load for the feeder that triggers additional technical studies, from ten percent to fifteen percent; (2) establishing a standard three-party interconnection agreement; (3) including cross-limitation of liability and non-indemnification language with respect to projects where a State of Hawaii agency is the customer; and (4) including additional data information regarding the customer’s generating facility.

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Hawai’i Utility Commission Opens Door to More Renewable Energy on Grid:

Improved rules for interconnection approved, several issues remain

News Release from EarthJustice and Hawaii Solar Energy Association

November 30, 2011, Honolulu, HI —

Yesterday, the Public Utilities Commission of the State of Hawai‘i (PUC) approved a national precedent setting settlement between Hawai‘i investor-owned utilities and renewable energy organizations that adopts new rules governing connections between renewable energy sources and the electrical grid. The new rules, scheduled to go into effect December 3, 2011, are expected to pave the way for more decentralized renewable generation, like rooftop solar panels, to contribute to the energy mix in the islands. Home and business owners often face extra costs and red tape in installing rooftop solar systems because utilities are wary of the effects of independent, small systems feeding energy into the power lines. The new rules ease utilities’ acceptance of more power from rooftop solar panels and other decentralized renewable sources, while lessening the burdens on utility customers who want to “go green.”

“The improvements to Hawai‘i’s interconnection rules are a big first step toward enabling more homes and businesses to join the clean energy wave. Hawai‘i and the rest of the nation need to continue such progress to break our addiction to dirty fossil fuels,” said Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake, who represented the Hawai‘i Solar Energy Association (HSEA) before the PUC.

The improved rules include allowing the amount of renewable generation on a local power line to move beyond the current barrier of 15 percent of peak load, without requiring a special study of the potential impacts. The 15 percent level, which was raised from 10 percent last year in a previous settlement, has acted as a virtual ceiling on renewable energy at the circuit level because of the costs and delays of such studies.

Now, the utilities may use a streamlined “supplemental review” process to approve renewable generation beyond the 15 percent level without a full-blown interconnection study. The streamlined review process also opens more grid capacity to solar photovoltaic systems, because they generate electricity during the day when circuit loads are higher. This accommodation of higher levels of solar PV is the first such step in the nation and may lead to further ways to improve access for renewables to the grid.

While 15 percent of peak load has long been the “rule of thumb” for utilities across the U.S., the increasing levels of decentralized solar energy in Hawai‘i and other states are raising the need to find ways to accommodate higher contributions from renewable energy sources. Hawai‘i’s improved rules pave the way for further advancements in interconnection practices here and elsewhere.

“The 15 percent of peak load limit has essentially closed many circuits across the state to renewable energy business,” said Mark Duda, President of HSEA. “Hopefully, this more efficient and transparent system will open up not only more access to the grid, but also broader perspectives on how we can achieve a clean energy future.”

The settlement the PUC approved yesterday was the product of more than a year of negotiations between the Hawaiian Electric utilities and several non-utility organizations, including HSEA and Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), a non-profit organization that tracks and grades interconnection practices nationwide. Hawai‘i’s interconnection practices have received “F” grades in IREC’s annual “Freeing the Grid” reports, but that grade will undoubtedly improve.

“We appreciate the Hawaiian Electric companies for recognizing the benefits of improving the interconnection process for all parties involved,” said Duda. “We want to continue to work with the utilities to find ways to facilitate access for distributed renewable energy while maintaining a reliable grid.”

The PUC’s order left several disputed issues to be resolved later. They include a controversial proposal by the utilities that would allow them to impose expensive remote monitoring and control equipment (known as “SCADA,” for “supervisory control and data acquisition”) on systems as small as 20 kilowatts or less, so they can turn off the systems at their discretion. HSEA and other renewable energy parties have opposed this proposal as unduly burdensome and not cost-effective.

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Related: US Dept. of Energy “Beyond the 15% Rule”

Maui News: PUC eases alternate power path

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