There’s a lot of great solar news out of California this week. Susan wrote about a small town in the Mojave desert the other day that is going 85% solar and now we have this news out of Mendota, California.
We hear it over and over that one of the biggest limitations to solar and wind energy is its intermittent nature. Research recently put out by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, however, indicates that the electric grid can accomodate much more renewable energy than it currently does.
To follow up on that, a new solar project in California — the CalRENEW-1 project built by Meridian Energy near Mendota — is making it clear that this is true in the real world as well. This 5MW project is the first solar farm in California to be connected to the transmission grid. Every other solar project, no matter how big, is connected to distribution lines.
What Meridian had to go through to get this project up, however, is rather ridiculous.
The Center for American Progress’ Richard Caperton reports: “Arguably the biggest hurdle to getting connected to the transmission grid is receiving approval from the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages California’s transmission grid.”
“Meridian had to meet stringent requirements set by the grid operator and by Pacific Gas & Electric, the Northern California utility that is buying the plant’s output. It had to upgrade its transformer to handle 10 percent above its maximum planned output and install phone lines throughout, which took eight months alone, according to Jake Rudisill, a consultant on the project,” ClimateWire reports.
Speaking of the illogical hurdles and difficulties renewable energy projects must pass to move through the bureaucratic system, California PUC Commissioner John Bohn says, “It demonstrates enormous persistence on the part of the developer. Sometimes getting anything done in California is a huge pain in the panties.”
It is clear that the bureaucratic process is in need of great transformation. The technologies have changed and the regulatory system needs to change to adapt to them as well.
However, this is not to say that every project should be connected to transmission lines. “This project only had to build about 300 feet of new line to connect to existing transmission, so the additional infrastructure costs were much less than other projects. And, there are significant benefits to having smaller solar developments tied directly to distribution lines, since this helps utilities manage their system. This project does, however, open the way forward for much larger, utility-scale developments, which will be absolutely necessary to California meeting its 33% RPS goal,” Caperton comments.
This project does indicate that we can be more progressive in the way we are connecting renewable energy to the grid.
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Image Credit: Wayne National Forest via flickr/CC license