The “interconnection process” is the processes by which an electric generating facility (solar, wind, biomass, coal, etc) is allowed to connect to and supply the grid with power. The interconnection process is sometimes overlooked by new solar companies but it’s very important to understand for the health of your business. Similar to the permitting processes with solar, it can be a major obstacles to getting a project completed on time on getting paid, especially as your projects get larger but even for residential work.
The two key questions to address when looking to understand the interconnection is: what is the process and do we do it quickly and efficiently?
For this article, I’m going to focus on the interconnection process for distributed generation solar power planets, that is solar facilites that are 1MW or less. If the facility is larger then 1MW it must go through the standard ISO New England and ISO New England Reliability Pool and might also need to register for FERC if its a “qualifying facility”, meaning the owner is a independent power producer. We’ll save the ISO New England Standard Registration Process for large facilities over 1MW. The variables determing which interconnection process you will go through are based on 1) the size of the plant and 2) the specific location of the interconnection and where it will tie into the grid. Read below for the full article, if have more questions about the interesting process, leave a comment or ask us on the HeatSpring facebook page.
First, a little review on government organizations invovled in the interconnection process, starting at the federal level and coming down to the state level.
FERC – FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is an independent agency that is responsbile for the regulation of interstate transmission of electricity, gas, and oil. Typically, they do not focus on state issues, which are dealt with by the state’s Public Uility Commision. However, since The Enegy Act of 2005 FERC’s top initiates are the integratinon of 1) smart grid 2) demand response and 3)renewables into the grid. For more specific information see What FERC does. What you need to know is that FERC regulates interstate tranmission of energy and since 2005 has had a strong role in regulation of reneables into the grid.
ISO NE – ISO New England is a non-profit, regional transmission organization that was created by FERC in the 1970s to oversea the power generation and transmission of its member utilities in New England. It’s task is to make sure the grid is stable on a day to day basis and make sure electricity is being delivered to consumers. ISO NE completes this task in three ways. First, by providing close to real time reliability reports on New England demand and generation capacity so the lights can stay on. Second, by overseeing the market for the sales and purchase of wholesale electricity rates. Third, by managing and planning of the New England power production process to meet New Englands demands in the future. You can learn more about ISO NE here. ISO NE impacts solar because they need to understand what the grid is using and producing for power at all times and must make sure it will also be reliable and high quality power.
NEPOOL – The New England Electric Pool is a volunteer organization comprised of all generators, tranmission owners, suppliers, municipal utilites creating a distributing electricity to end users in Massachusetts.
There are 3 categories of interconnection for distributed generation plants. The difference between each category is mainly the amount of documentation needed to show to the utility and also the amount of time it will take to receive an answer about your ability to interconnect.
- Simplified Application. The solar facility can be up to 10kW single phase or 25kW 3 phase power. Basically, you submit a form to the distribution company and within 10 days you will hear a “yes”, or a “no, we need more information”.
- Expediated Process. The qualification for the expediated process is that the size of the project is larger thent the qualifications of the simplified application but that project is similar to other projects that have been completed in the area in terms of the type of technology used, and the size of the power plant. The standard process will typically take between 40 and 60 days. It’s key that you list very specific information about the equipment, specifically the inverter, that you will be installing. Remember, reliability is key.
- The Standard Process. The standard process takes between 120 and 150 days to complete and is used for any project that is using a new technology that the uilitity is not familiar with or for a project that is very large.
This is meant to give you a general understanding of what to expect in the interconnection process, be sure to do your research. You can find more information on the interconnetion process by searching on google “interconnoect process [the name of your utilities]”. If you’re in Massachusetts, here are the websites for Natioanl Grid Interconnection Process and NStars Interconnection Process.