Michigan’s Consumers Power has sparked a storm of protest over its inability to keep up with new solar requests for grid interconnection in its territory. Since the utility received over 2,400 interconnection applications in 2017 and 2018, compared with 215 in 2015, the increase in interconnection applications was “too substantial and too sudden” to cope with, it complained to the Michigan Public Service Commission.
The utility also indicated that more than 540 outstanding interconnection applications for facilities larger than 1 megawatt involve solar projects, which would represent commercial and industrial applications.
The utility filed a request in January with the MPSC — Case No. U-20444 — for a blanket waiver of its obligations under solar interconnection and net metering requirements. Since then, many objections to the request have come from solar developers, business booster organizations and environmental watchdogs, generally calling for a negotiated workout in lieu of a waiver.
The Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, which represents solar installers and users, asked the commission to permit a round of hearings so that all affected parties have the opportunity to make their case. “This issue is so important that it is only appropriate that time be allowed for stakeholders to provide input,” the association said in an early February filing in the case.
The Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council and the Institute for Energy Innovation also protested the waiver request, saying that “the requested relief dramatically and unlawfully shifts harm dramatically onto the developers.” Some of this harm would result from projects that are now dependent on but might not ultimately be qualified for the federal tax credit, which is being phased out at the end of 2021.
Perhaps the most critical of protests to the waiver request came from Geronimo Energy, a large solar developer, which charged that “What has become apparent to Geronimo Energy over the course of its dealings with Consumers over interconnection of its projects is that there has been a lack of transparency and communication in Consumers’ interconnection process. “
Geronimo continued that, “This has resulted in the slowed or stalled progress of projects, despite Geronimo Energy’s best efforts to keep projects moving. It has appeared that Consumers has stopped working on our projects once those projects appeared to be making significant progress through the interconnection process.”
To alleviate some pressure on Consumers, the MEIBC suggested that the Commission “create a temporary pre-application process that would allow developers and the utility to work together to pre-screen projects for their viability given current grid conditions.”
Among other protests of the waiver request, the Environmental Law & Policy Center filed a response saying that, “Clearly, waiving the timelines required under Michigan’s interconnection regulations would raise costs for members of the public that are interested in developing distribution generation projects under the rules. These cost increases could be significant.”
The ELPC also said that a stoppage in solar interconnections “harms both customers and interconnection applicants by unfairly creating obstacles to cost-effective development of renewable distributed generation in Consumers’ territory. The Commission may only grant such a waiver ‘upon a showing of good cause and a finding that the waiver is in the public interest,’” the group charged.
“Such a radical step should not be undertaken ex parte, and the Commission should instead order an expedited contested case proceeding with an abbreviated settlement process intended to result in a plan to move interconnections forward while exploring narrowly tailored approaches to mitigating some of the Company’s concerns,” the ELPC recommended.
The law group also noted that other utilities in the region, like DTE Electric, have completed more hires and have expanded operations to cope with the solar interconnection request increase in its service area.
Among recommendations of the ELPC are that “The Commission should direct an Administrative Law Judge to set firm and abbreviated deadlines for participation in the contested case. The process should result in:
- A Company plan to process all applications in its queue in as timely a fashion as possible
- A Company plan to manage its pipeline of interconnection applications going forward
- A joint recommendation to the Commission of specific steps that can be taken to expedite interconnections, including but not limited to the possibility of granting a temporary and limited waiver to specific elements of Michigan’s interconnection standards if “good cause” exists.”
The ELPC also suggested that “Parties should be allowed to comment on the joint proposal and the Commission should require an evidentiary hearing, if necessary, to address any contested or unresolved issues. Following this process the Commission should issue an order granting, denying, or modifying the relief requested.