Maine examines interconnection standards

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Maine Public Utilities Commission has opened an inquiry into whether it should change its rule governing how small distributed generation resources may interconnect with the electric grid.  This small generator interconnection procedures inquiry may reshape how distributed energy resources will interconnect with the Maine grid going forward.

While many large central power plants are subject to some federal regulation, states generally may prescribe the standards for how most solar photovoltaic panels and other small distributed energy resources may interconnect with the grid.  Interconnection standards and procedures are designed to provide a safe, fair, and timely way for utility customers to connect generation to the grid.

In a 2009 report, the Maine Public Utilities Commission concluded that it should create standardized, statewide interconnection procedures for Maine’s utilities.  In the Commission’s view, “standardized rules would increase the efficiency of the interconnection process, encourage the increased use of renewable energy and other distributed generation resources like micro combined heat and power systems, and may foster an easier business environment for the companies that sell and install small generation systems.”

In 2010, the Commission adopted its Rule Chapter 324, Small Generator Interconnection Standards.  That rule was based largely on model standards released by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) in 2009, which were themselves based on the federal Small Generation Interconnection Procedures.  While the Commission adopted minor changes to Chapter 324 in 2013, it remains largely as originally adopted.

At the same time, the intervening years have brought changes to some of the context for interconnection issues.  First, IREC has updated its model standards.  The most recent edition, released in 2013, features significant changes from the prior standards, including the creation of a pre-application report, changes to the application fees for interconnection review, and definitional clarifications.

Second, increasing adoption of distributed generation has led FERC and state regulators to consider whether small generation facilities should be required to have “frequency and voltage ride through capability”, an ability to protect the grid’s reliability as amount of distributed generation grows on the electrical system.

In light of these developments, the Maine Commission has issued a notice of inquiry seeking comment on these issues.  According to that notice, the inquiry will assess “whether and to what extent Chapter 324 should be revised to (1) reflect changes in the IREC interconnection standards and procedures and (2) incorporate requirements for frequency and voltage ride through capability of small generation facilities.”

The Commission has docketed the case as Docket No. 2016-00068, and requests public comment by May 20, 2016.

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