Grow Solar works to engage utility groups with stakeholder-supported model practices to improve interconnection processes and pilot the process improvements with both regulated and unregulated utilities.

Interconnection and Net Metering Process Regulations
Utility net metering and interconnection processes vary by ownership type and how the state Public Utility Commission regulates that ownership type. Utilities can be classified as investor owned, municipal, cooperative, and in some states alternative retail electric suppliers. Investor-owned utilities are privately owned and responsible to its shareholders. They serve approximately 75% of customers in the United States and are subject to state regulation.

Municipal utilities are owned by a unit of government and are operated under the control of a publicly elected body, while cooperatives are private non-profit utilities legally established to be owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its service. Profits from cooperative utilities are used for utility operation or are returned to the customer rate base. Finally, alternative retail electric suppliers do not generate electricity themselves but operate as businesses that buy and sell electricity in a competitive market. State-by-state treatment of different utility models varies in the IL-MN-WI region. All utilities, including municipal utilities and electric cooperatives, are subject to state specified interconnection and net metering regulations in Minnesota. Wisconsin regulates investor owned and municipal utilities, while Illinois regulates investor owned utilities and alternative electric retail suppliers.

Investor-Owned Utility Distributed Generation
Did you know? There are approximately 350 individual utilities that serve electricity to over 12 million customers in the Illinois-Minnesota-Wisconsin region. Just 10 of these utilities represent 73% of the customer base. To learn more about the solar interconnection and net metering processes for these utilities, please visit the links below.

IL: ComEd, AmerenMidAmerican 
MN: MN Power, Xcel MN
WI: WeEnergies, Alliant Energy, Wisconsin Public Service Corp, Madison Gas & Electric Co.

Interconnection Best Practice Guidelines
1. Small Generator Interconnection Agreements and Procedures
Author: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

Overview: Even though each state’s public utility commission has the ability prescribe interconnection regulations, the majority of states follow the guidelines set forth through FERC’s Small Generator Interconnection Agreements and Procedures. These FERC guidelines are considered and adopted on a state-by-state basis. Source: FERC Order 792 2013 Revision

2. Model Interconnection Procedures
Author: Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)     

Overview: IREC’s report identifies a number of model process recommendations, including:

  • Applications – Customer ability to access, complete, sign, submit, and track applications electronically through the utility’s website.
  • Information Access – Public tools or optional pre-application reports available for customers to information about system conditions at their proposed Point of Interconnection without submitting a full interconnection Application.
  • Process Time – Fast Track screens and approval timeframes for Levels 1 – 3 applications, with transparent tracking of approval milestones.
  • Inspection – Defined inspection criteria, timeframes, and re-inspection processes.

Some of IREC’s recommendations have been incorporated into FERC Order 792 (2013), while others have been adopted at the state-level. Source: 2013 IREC Interconnection Model Procedures

Utility Roadmaps
West Monroe Partners worked directly with several regional utilities to create roadmaps regarding interconnection/net metering process improvements. Below are links to the technology, regulatory, and process-related recommendations. General recommendations can be found here.

Recent Interconnection Trends
The number of solar installations has increased slightly across the 3-state region between 2010 and 2013.  Illinois and Minnesota have interconnected more systems annually; while the number interconnected system in Wisconsin has decreased in recent years.  In 2010 and 2011, solar installations in the 3-state region represented less than 1% of those in the entire US. In 2012 and 2013, they represented 1.3% of the national total.  Data points for the number of solar installations have been estimated through utility reported data or numbers of awarded rebates.

Utility and Solar Stakeholder Perceptions
West Monroe has engaged with utilities and additional solar stakeholders, including contractors and installers, through a targeted distribution of surveys created to capture information about current state interconnection practices.  The stakeholder feedback contained paint points and observed best practices related to application requirements, information access, processing time, and inspections.

Applications: Stakeholders shared that paper or semi-electronic applications can be time consuming and that applications were often unnecessarily complicated for small systems.  They recommended adopting standardized and automated applications to save customers, contractors, and utilities time and energy.

  • Information Access: Limited visibility into where an application is in the approvals process can leave customers feeling in the dark. Utilities can provide an improved application experience through ensuring there is transparency in application requirements and tracking throughout the process.
  • Processing Time: Approvals timing can increase due to multiple returns of an application for being incomplete and limited staff dedicated to application review. The responding stakeholders suggested that standardizing times for individual portions of the overall application review, providing user-friendly instructions, and identifying a single utility contact to answer questions can help expedite the approvals process.
  • Inspections: A lack of communication between solar installers and utility engineers can cause confusion in inspection requirements. Having defined procedures (forms, cost, time) and City coordination allows customers to efficiently complete their system go-live.

Utility respondents identified that they are anticipating administrative, technical, and legislative challenges when responding to increased solar applications and grid installations. West Monroe Partners plans to help utilities address these issues and other emerging challenges and opportunities by hosting workshops related to electronic application formats and payment options, electronic data record-keeping, status tracking/reporting, and inspection appointment tools. We will also be providing technical assistance in creating pilot utility multi-year Solar Adoption Roadmaps to help guide technology and process improvements.

A full report containing West Monroe Partners’ findings can be found under the Resources section of this page. We invite you to access the Solar in the Midwest: Utility Opportunities to Effect Positive Customer Experience webinar hosted on May 28, 2015, that summarizes key findings as well as leading practice solar enrollment processes and anticipated utility challenges.

If you are interested in participating in upcoming workshops or would like more information about the project, please contact Nick Hylla at nickh@midwestrenew.org.

Resources

  1. Five Aspects to Measuring Benchmarks for the Utility Interconnection Process (infographic)
  2. WMP-SolarWebinar: Solar in the Midwest: Utility Opportunities to Effect Positive Customer Experience
  3. Distributed Solar Interconnection Challenges and Best Practices
  4. Current State Utilities Report 2015
  5. Overview of Shared Solar Opportunities in the Midwest
  6. Utility Enrollment Process Considerations for Shared Solar Projects