Solar is coming -- is your utility ready?

July 26, 2017

By Rich Andrysik
Distributed Resources and Generation Specialist

The costs to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have been dropping. Electricity consumers across the country are installing more and more systems, typically rooftop solar, to generate at least part of their electricity needs from this green energy source.

Although these systems are not as prevalent in the Midwest as other parts of the country, customers are installing them and utilities need to be prepared when a customer asks to connect a solar or wind energy generation system to the local electric grid.

Some small utilities have been surprised and sometimes caught unprepared when customers ask to connect solar or wind generation systems to the electric grid.
MEAN can provide its wholesale electric participating communities an interconnection policy to prepare utilities for customer requests to connect these distributed generation, or DG, systems. MEAN’s policy, which includes rules and safeguards for interconnecting with an electric distribution system, is similar to policies used by other utilities in the Midwest.

The policy includes:

  • An application form that collects project information for the utility such as who wants to connect, where, how big a system and the project time frame;
  • An agreement that informs and binds the retail customer to the utility’s rules; and
  • A form for notice of completion, which allows the customer to notify the utility when the DG system is complete. Once complete, the utility checks the site for the required equipment and installs a meter. When both parties sign-off on the completion form, the customer may energize the system.

I have visited more than a dozen MEAN participant communities to encourage adoption of this policy. My visits typically include a presentation to the utilities board or city council, where I provide information regarding this interconnection policy and other DG system related topics such as net metering.

Net metering is a billing mechanism that allows a customer with a solar PV system to partially offset their monthly energy use and sometimes receive credit from their utility for excess energy generated. It’s important to remember the utility is always standing ready to provide the customer’s total energy needs above the solar PV system’s capabilities or when the system isn’t generating any electricity such as on cloudy days or at night.

Having an interconnection policy in place before the utility or city office receives a request can alleviate confusion, better educate the customer and help streamline the overall process. The interconnection policy also helps with safety concerns and reliability of the local distribution system.
The utility checks for proper connections and a disconnection switch. This switch protects the utility’s crew from electricity generated by the customer’s equipment. A state inspector needs to check compliance with safety codes.

If any MEAN participant communities need assistance with an interconnection policy, please contact me at (800) 234-2595.