Energy Officials Seek to Speed Process for Grid Connection of Renewable Energy Projects
State report details sharp increase in wind and solar energy installations over the past five years
BOSTON - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - With the number of small and medium-scale renewable energy projects on the rise in Massachusetts, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) today filed a report with the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) outlining recommendations aimed at improving the process through which utility companies connect new renewable energy generation projects to the electric grid that feeds power to customers throughout Massachusetts.
The action was taken in conjunction with the release of a report today by the Patrick-Murray Administration, showing that sharp growth in renewable energy generation projects sparked a seven-fold increase in demand for interconnection service between 2004 and 2010. The distributed generation sector in Massachusetts is relatively new and has grown sharply in recent years, according to the report. Typical distributed generation projects include small-scale or community-scale wind turbines, residential or commercial-scale solar photovoltaic installations, small-scale hydro and combined heat and power systems.
"In the wake of nation-leading energy legislation and policy put in place under Governor Patrick, Massachusetts is experiencing a clean energy revolution, and we are on track to see 90 megawatts each of wind and solar power either installed or in construction and design by the end of 2011 - representing 30-fold increases in deployment of both technologies since 2007," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. said. "Making it easier and more efficient to connect new renewable energy sources to existing utility company infrastructure will speed the pace of clean energy adoption, furthering our goals to expand a new clean energy economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and cut long-term energy costs."
DOER's filing with the DPU today requested several changes to the interconnection process, including:
- Accelerated and Binding Timelines: Recommendation that the DPU mandate shorter, clearer, and binding timelines for interconnection applications. These timelines would be significantly shorter than those in the existing tariff, and enforceable by the DPU.
- Faster and more Efficient Application Process: Recommendation to create a uniform, user friendly, online application system that would automatically and transparently track whether each utility meets established timelines, and allow applicants and state regulators to monitor the status of an application in real-time.
- Interconnection Ombudsperson: Recommendation that the DPU assign an interconnection ombudsperson responsible for hearing and quickly resolving issues arising during the interconnection process.
The request for an investigation by the DPU and the report are just two of several activities DOER has undertaken to improve the interconnection process, ranging from working with utilities to launch an interconnection education and awareness initiative earlier this year, to developing a distributed generation and interconnection website.
Massachusetts has emerged as a national leader in distributed renewable energy generation. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) gave the Commonwealth its highest grade of "A" last year for its interconnection policies. The rising demand for renewable energy generation aligns with the goals of these policies and legislation adopted since 2007, including the Global Warming Solutions Act (which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050), the Green Communities Act, and the Green Jobs Act.
"The changes we are proposing would help Massachusetts residents, businesses and municipalities meet their energy savings goals faster, saving money and time," said DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia.
"These improvement are essential to helping the Commonwealth continue its leadership in renewable energy and help make clean energy a marquee industry here just like IT and lifesciences," said MassCEC Executive Director Patrick Cloney.
The Massachusetts Distributed Generation Interconnection Report released today recommends ten changes to the existing interconnection process in order to accommodate the large increase in demand for distributed generation. Projects currently seeking interconnection to the grid must go through the existing interconnection process in order to connect non-utility scale generation installations to the electric grid. The DOER emphasized many of the report's recommendations in its request to the DPU, as well as through some new suggestions.
"This timely analysis illustrates the significant growth of distributed generation and renewables in Massachusetts," said Peter Rothstein, president of the New England Clean Energy Council. "Its recommendations to expedite the interconnection process are welcomed wholeheartedly by the clean energy industry."
The total volume of interconnection applications grew four-fold for National Grid, NStar and Western Massachusetts Electric (WMECO) between 2004 and 2010 and the total kilowatt volume of interconnection applications reviewed grew seven-fold between 2004 and 2010. The findings of the report predict continued growth in interconnection demand as a result of the state's ambitious clean energy programs.
The recommendations also include developing guidance on state and federal requirements and expanding education on the interconnection process for installers.
Prepared by KEMA, Inc., the Massachusetts Distributed Generation Interconnection Report was funded by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER).
The report was undertaken to identify solutions to challenges within the existing interconnection process.
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) develops and implements policies and programs aimed at ensuring the adequacy, security, diversity, and cost-effectiveness of the Commonwealth's energy supply within the context of creating a greener energy future. To that end,
DOER strives to:
- Ensure deployment of all cost-effective energy efficiency,
- Maximize development of clean energy resources,
- Create and implement energy strategies to assure reliable supplies and improve the cost of clean energy relative to fossil-fuel based generation, and
- Support Massachusetts clean energy companies and spur Massachusetts' clean energy employment.