After some drama, California’s major utilities have published updated Interconnection Capacity Analysis maps

California on map

California has just taken a major step forward in bringing clean local energy online. The Clean Coalition played a major role in this progress as a leading advocate for streamlining the interconnection of distributed energy resources (DER) to the electric grid. On Dec. 28, 2018, California’s major utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), published their updated Interconnection Capacity Analysis (ICA) maps, or ICA 2.0. These online grid maps are a product of the Distribution Resources Plan (DRP) proceeding at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in which the Clean Coalition has been the leading non-utility intervenor.

“The updated ICA maps make a great leap forward from what has been available to date,” said Sahm White, Economics and Policy Analysis Director at the Clean Coalition. “The new maps take a huge amount of risk and uncertainty out of DER project development, which will result in more of these projects being built at lower cost. A developer can now determine, early in the decision-making process, what size of project can be sited at any location with little or no modification to the existing grid. This is critical for easily choosing the best locations for siting projects, and then for projects that are moved forward, being informed with realistic costs and timing expectations regarding interconnection.”

The drama

The expected July publication of the ICA 2.0 maps was delayed because of unwarranted issues raised about exposing easily discernable grid details, such as the location of substations. This concern led the utilities to take the drastic step in September of restricting access to their existing maps, which had already been publicly available since 2012. Fortunately, that action was reversed when Administrative Law Judge Robert Mason ruled on October 9 that the previously published maps should be made publicly available again. In a subsequent ruling on December 17, 2018, Mason directed the utilities to make the ICA 2.0 maps available by December 28, 2018 through a public portal, like the predecessor maps had been accessible for over half a decade.

Importance of the ICA maps

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Example of new ICA maps, showing color-coded existing capacity and detailed information for the specific identified point, as well as circuit load profiles, at the Paul Sweet substation

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ICA maps assess all points on the existing distribution grid for accommodating new DER capacity without significant grid upgrades. The maps, which contain details on available interconnection capacity, are crucial tools for bringing DER online more quickly and cost-effectively.

Interconnection is often the most complex, uncertain, and time-consuming aspect of DER project development. This is particularly true for smaller projects, which can easily be rendered uneconomic due to a lack of predictability in terms of interconnection costs and timelines. For this reason, since 2010 the Clean Coalition has successfully pushed for utilities to provide increasing-ly detailed and accurate interconnection data in the grid maps, which help project developers and property owners determine whether sites are appropriate for serious DER siting consideration.

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The ICA 2.0 update represents the first full-scale release of ICA maps with reliable data. Although the utilities published demonstration ICA maps in 2015 with detailed data, those maps relied on models and assumptions that did not meet the accuracy standards required by interconnection engineers. In contrast, the ICA 2.0 maps can be used with a high degree of accuracy for interconnection assessments. The new maps evaluate the most common interconnection capacity factors at the node level on every line section of all primary distribution circuits — that is, at every point on the circuits where there can be a change in values that would affect the ICA results. Significantly, for the sake of facilitating certainty and accuracy for project developers and property owners, the maps are publicly available and will be updated every month.

Craig Lewis, Executive Director of the Clean Coalition, added, “ICA 2.0 provides an unprecedented level of transparency and certainty through publicly available grid data. There is still a long way to go to truly streamline interconnection processes for commercial-scale DER in California, but ICA 2.0 provides the first real foundation for distribution grid planning in the United States. With continuing efforts, California will keep improving, and other states, and even FERC, will at least match California’s progress in streamlining interconnection for local renewables and other commercial-scale DER.”

The Clean Coalition has been a major contributor in the effort to publish and improve the ICA maps, providing the vision for modernized, streamlined interconnection processes and leading the effort to realize that vision.
While ICA 2.0 is a welcome major development, there are more improvements to come. Next steps have already been defined for ICA 3.0 and include these additional ICA refinements:

  • Current ICA maps pertain to just the distribution grid. ICA 3.0 will add constraints related to the transmission grid that could affect interconnection — for example, other projects being proposed for that part of the transmission grid.
  • ICA 2.0 maps model each circuit, but they do not show how a circuit may affect neighboring circuits. ICA 3.0 will dynamically model multiple circuits and their impact on one another.
  • ICA 3.0 will aim to update the maps in real-time, to ensure that the results are never out of date.

— Solar Builder magazine

Duke Energy Florida brings massive Hamilton Solar Power Plant online

duke energy florida hamilton power plant

The new 74.9-megawatt (MW) Hamilton Solar Power Plant in Jasper, Fla., is now operation, according to Duke Energy. The plant’s carbon-free power is enough to energize more than 20,000 homes at peak production.

The Hamilton plant is part of the company’s strategic commitment to install or acquire 700 MW of solar energy in Florida through 2022, helping ensure residents have increasingly clean and diverse power sources. DEF currently owns and operates nearly 100 MW of solar energy resources throughout its regulated service territory.

“Duke Energy solar projects bring the greatest amount of renewable energy on line for customers in the most efficient and economical way,” said Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy Florida (DEF) state president. “Building solar power plants like Hamilton is part of our ongoing strategy to offer sustainable, diverse and smarter energy solutions that our customers have told us they value.”

The company broke ground for the Hamilton plant in July 2018 and brought it online Dec. 22. The project, originally developed by Tradewind Energy Inc., was completed by Duke Energy.

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Also in 2018, DEF announced plans to break ground in 2019 on the Columbia Solar Power Plant in Fort White, Fla. It will be developed by Core Solar. DEF will own, operate and maintain the 74.9-MW facility, which is expected to be fully operational in March 2020.

In addition to expanding its solar investments, Duke Energy is making strategic, targeted investments in battery storage technology, transportation electrification to support the growing U.S. adoption of electric vehicles, and a modernized power grid to deliver the diverse and reliable energy solutions customers want and need.

Duke Energy Florida is helping more than 400 residential and business customers per month interconnect their private solar systems to the local electric grid through its renewables service center, which has made it easier for customers to interconnect.

— Solar Builder magazine

Harvest Energy Solutions installs first utility solar project in Michigan’s Lenawee County

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Harvest Energy Solutions solar system installed at Harvest Energy Lenawee in Lenawee County, MI.

Jackson, Mich.-based solar energy provider, Harvest Energy Solutions is the first provider of solar energy to a utility in Lenawee County, Mich., via three large scale solar array projects in the region.

The installations are owned by Stateline Farms, Gerken Paving, and Harvest Solar Lenawee. Each of these systems is capable of 1.0 MW of AC output. The power generated by these systems will be sold to Cassopolis, MI – based energy provider Midwest Energy & Communications (MEC) thanks to a program offered by Wolverine Power Co-op.

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Harvest partnered with MEC when Wolverine Power offered to purchase solar energy under a program through their member-owned cooperatives. Additionally, Wolverine stipulated that the power must be provided locally from an existing member of MEC in order to contribute to the local economy. This series of solar projects created jobs in both Lenawee and Jackson counties, employed local electricians, construction workers, engineers and other professionals. Ken Zebarah, Territory Sales Manager at Harvest explained how these installations were ground-breaking projects for them:

“Historically, taking on three projects of this size at once would be a big deal. But between the cooperation from the townships, MEC and the Harvest team, the installations came together without a hitch and within the agreed upon tight schedule.”

Harvest hopes this will be the first of several installations to follow in order to provide power to the utility. According to Zebarah, “Through Wolverine Power and all other utilities in the State, solar programs and policies are constantly changing, so there is always opportunity for a variety of larger projects throughout the State.”

Zebarah continued to describe how Harvest Energy’s land-leasing program will assist in facilitating projects such as this in the future and aid in local job development: “We are actively pursuing land lease opportunities for larger projects, in addition to our typical scope of work of providing solar energy systems to residences, businesses, and farms.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Xcel Energy shows its path to 100 percent renewable generation by 2050

Xcel Energy

Xcel Energy is officially all-in on renewable generation, laying out a plan to deliver 100 percent carbon-free electricity to customers by 2050. OK, so that’s fairly distant, but they plan to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels in the eight states it serves by 2030.

“This is an extraordinary time to work in the energy industry, as we’re providing customers more low-cost clean energy than we could have imagined a decade ago,” said Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO, Xcel Energy. “We’re accelerating our carbon reduction goals because we’re encouraged by advances in technology, motivated by customers who are asking for it and committed to working with partners to make it happen.”

”When I launched my campaign back in 2017 we had a bold agenda for our state to get to 100 percent renewable by 2040,” said Colorado Governor-Elect Jared Polis. “Xcel Energy’s exciting announcement today, along with the strong climate goals communities like Pueblo, Summit County, Ft. Collins, Denver and others across the state have embraced, shows we are leading the way forward right here in Colorado — by committing to a renewable and clean energy future.”

The case for solar as resilience from economic disasters too

Xcel Energy has reduced its carbon emissions 35 percent since 2005, as part of its previous goal to cut carbon 60 percent by 2030. The company believes that its 2030 goal can be achieved affordably with renewable energy and other technologies currently available. However, Xcel says its long-term vision of zero-carbon electricity requires technologies that are not cost effective or commercially available today. That is why Xcel Energy is committed to ongoing work to develop advanced technologies while putting the necessary policies in place to achieve this transition.

Xcel Energy’s electricity grid serves millions of customers with reliable, affordable energy. By implementing new renewable and carbon-free generation and energy storage technologies at scale, the company can provide the greatest environmental impact at the lowest cost for customers. That clean electricity can then also be used to reduce the environmental footprint of other industries, such as transportation through the use of electric vehicles, for even greater impact.

“Congratulations to Xcel Energy and all of its customers for this bold, progressive commitment to reducing and ultimately eliminating carbon emissions,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “I’m grateful for our partnership with Xcel Energy, the nation’s leading utility, when it comes to building a path toward a clean energy future. Reducing carbon emissions is a must, and Denver is committed to an affordable, reliable and sustainable energy future. This is a game-changer for addressing the threats of climate change and will be a tremendous asset in achieving our own renewable electricity and emission reduction goals.”

— Solar Builder magazine

PNM New Mexico issues RFP for 50 MW solar facility

request for proposals

PNM Resources’ New Mexico utility announced a new program designed to support governmental, tribal and large customers in meeting their sustainable energy goals. The program, PNM Solar Direct, is an option for local governments, tribes and large electric customers in New Mexico to subscribe to energy produced by a large-scale solar facility. In connection with the program, PNM has issued a request for proposals through Feb. 1, 2019, for a 50 megawatt solar facility that will add to the 874 megawatts of solar, wind and geothermal resources already planned to serve PNM customers in 2021.

These renewable resources support the PNM goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the planned exit from coal and the addition of more clean, sustainable energy resources to its portfolio.

“Several of our large customers, like the City of Albuquerque, have established goals for using clean energy or reducing their carbon footprint. PNM has been working closely with these customers to create a program to help them achieve those goals in a cost-effective way,” said Pat Vincent-Collawn, chairman, president and CEO of PNM Resources. “The PNM Solar Direct program, like the Facebook data center agreements, shows that PNM is committed to working with our customers to find solutions to their energy needs and making New Mexico a sustainable energy leader.”

The program was announced during a joint press conference with Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018. The City of Albuquerque is subscribing to the program for 25 megawatts, half of the planned output from the new solar facility.

The program and the solar facility are subject to approval by the New Mexico Regulation Commission.

— Solar Builder magazine