The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission fined Xcel Energy $1 million for exceeding a maximum number of customer service complaints as a result of significant delays in its processing of interconnection requests for solar projects. This is a pretty big deal considering commissions historically do not hold utilities accountable for their inadequate interconnection procedures.
In 2019, the Minnesota PUC established new rules for solar interconnection, but solar customers in Xcel territory were still seeing serious delays. And it probably would have went as business as usual if not for two solar companies who took it upon themselves to document the failures and began submitting complaints to the PUC — 129 separate complaints on behalf of their customers.
The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) was keeping a close eye on this one and has an excellent blog post summarizing the background of the case and why this is a hugely important precedent:
Other than submitting complaints through the Commission’s Consumer Affairs Office or filing a very expensive and time consuming formal complaint with the Commission, there is currently no other avenue for customers to ensure that Xcel Energy is providing adequate customer service.
If the Commission were to have agreed with Xcel’s argument that their solar customers do not count as “customers” in terms of their right to seek redress for service issues, people who install solar on their homes and businesses would be deemed in effect “non-customers”—whose rights to reasonable customer service are valued differently than other people that receive electricity from Xcel.
Fortunately, the Commission fulfilled its role protecting the rights of Xcel’s customers and affirmed the QSP is an appropriate mechanism for ensuring that customers receive quality service during the interconnection process. They also took steps to ensure that the specific obligations under the interconnection procedures are complied with as well.
Definitely check out the full IREC blog here. There is another really interesting aspect to this, involving the Minnesota Department of Commerce and how it tried to answer the question of financial harm as a result of interconnection delays.
“Not only do customers experience delays in their projects, but also increased costs or reduced incentives,” explained Michael R. Allen, President of All Energy Solar, one of the solar companies that submitted complaints, in a public comment letter asking the Minnesota PUC not to accept Xcel’s petition to throw out the complaints.
— Solar Builder magazine