As the Grow Solar Partnership Interconnection and Net Metering Process Lead, West Monroe Partners is providing technical assistance in creating multi-year Solar Adoption Roadmaps for pilot utilities.
West Monroe worked with Minnesota Power to develop interconnection process improvements and create a customized Solar Adoption Roadmap that addressed their current and expected challenges related to solar adoption. Minnesota Power is currently processing a limited number of solar interconnection applications, but is aware that regulatory requirements and market forces (accelerated by reduced PV costs and increased energy costs), are changing and customer demand is likely to increase quickly. They are seeking to proactively encourage solar adoption in their territory to meet their target of 1MW of residential solar by 2020, while ensuring they are properly positioned to scale its solar operations to meet demand.
Minnesota Power has processes in place to encourage and assist customers who want to install solar PV equipment, but some of these are manual and may not be scalable to keep up with a growing industry. The roadmap identified recommended actions across seven improvement areas:
- Electronic Submission of Customer Application Form
- Application Turnaround Time and Expedited Process for Qualifying Projects
- Transparency for Review Process of Applications
- Data Tracking and Management
- Scalability of existing Analysis Tools
- Reviews and Planning Processes
- Number of Inspection Visits
Minnesota Power’s roadmap goals can be viewed on the National Solar Roadmap website.
Dunn Energy Cooperative is an electric cooperative that clearly understands and is focused on their customers’ needs. Their interconnection process is tailored to deliver an improved customer experience. Although they have a single employee handling all aspects of the process, the process is very efficient. This efficient design makes the customer’s application process easy to navigate. They are able to handle each application on a case-by-case basis as needed, giving the customer a remarkable level of customized service, which works exceptionally well for their limited demand for interconnections.
As can be expected with a single employee handling all aspects of the program, the Dunn Energy process may not be easy to scale. However, the company does not expect an increase in the number of applications. This is largely due to their Community Solar Program, which allows customers to sign up on a subscription basis. If it receives sufficient subscription volume, the Community Solar Program will reduce the need and the demand for rooftop solar and create a more versatile alternative to a larger customer base. These factors ensure their current process can continue to provide an exceptionally high level of customer service, without becoming cumbersome.
Dunn Energy’s roadmap goals can be viewed on the National Solar Roadmap website.
Ameren Illinois is remarkable for striving to have a strong customer-focus in their operations. Their commitment to an excellent customer experience influences how their interconnections and net-metering process is structured. Working to adhere to Illinois state guidelines, the Ameren staff puts significant effort into making sure their customers are well-informed. By taking time to respond to their customer’s questions early in the application process, they ensure nearly all applications received are completed properly. This makes applications easy to process, thereby achieving high staff productivity in this business area.
Since Ameren Illinois is a large investor owned utility, it receives dozens of applications every year. Falling equipment prices, anticipated increases in energy rates, and changes in legislation all indicate that rooftop solar penetration will increase. Due to these facts, there is a distinct possibility that Ameren Illinois will receive over one hundred applications per year in the near future. Their current resource-intensive, low-tech process has limitations and cannot scale indefinitely. However, they have the opportunity to proactively make some changes and stay ahead of customer demand by:
- Creating an FAQ that is available online and as a pamphlet, which would reduce the number of phone calls received
- Documenting their review process to improve efficiency and to make it easier to train new employees
- Using an automated tool to track applications better, thereby eliminating potential errors, giving better feedback to customers, and leading to reduced paperwork in the process
- Creating a single, centralized database for all internal departments, allowing staff to quickly and efficiently access information about existing distributed generation within the service territory
Ameren’s roadmap goals can be viewed on the National Solar Roadmap website.
Shakopee Public Utilities
Shakopee Public Utilities (SPU) is a Municipal Utility near the Twin-Cities and serves 16,800 electric customers. SPU is currently experiencing a very limited demand for interconnections with a small customer base, although they do have rebates in place for new distributed generation (DG) installations. The current process is very thorough, and requires multiple supporting documents and inspections before interconnection is allowed. This stringent procedure ensures that DG in Shakopee is producing electricity as expected and desired before construction begins and that the safety and operating procedures of the utility crews are not compromised. This method of application processing can be supported due to the low volume of applications received each year. SPU is subject to the State Conservation Improvement Program (Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources), which requires 1.5% of electric revenue allocated for energy efficiency programs. The program goal is to save 1.5% in energy (KWH) over the previous year’s consumption.
SPU does not anticipate any changes to the State Conservation Improvement Program for the near term. However, changes to the federal income tax credit (ITC) rules are expected to lead to an increase in applications over the next several years. An increased future demand, coupled with a non-scalable process, may overwhelm resources, and DG proliferation will affect other departments more and more with increased penetration. SPU can help prepare for this increase by providing more online information for customers and contractors, as well as improving their application tracking and storage practices
SPU’s roadmap goals can be viewed on the National Solar Roadmap website.
Rochester Public Utilities
Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) is the largest municipal utility in Minnesota and serves approximately 52,000 electric customers. RPU is currently experiencing a very limited demand for interconnections with a small customer base as compared to large Investor Owned Utilities, although they do have rebates in place for new distributed generation (DG) installations. The current process is very thorough, and requires close collaboration between RPU and Building Safety. This system ensures that Distributed Generation facilities in Rochester adhere to all necessary codes and permits before starting construction and that the safety and operating procedures of the utility crews are not compromised. This method of application processing can be supported due to the low volume of applications received each year.
RPU is subject to Minnesota’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The RPS requires that 25% of energy come from renewable sources by 2025. Although RPU is not required to meet a solar carve out, the RPU board has publicly stated the intent to meet the 6% target within the RPS goal. Interconnection applications, particularly for residential solar, are expected to climb in the coming years with a decrease in technology costs and expansion of the federal income tax credit. While the existing solar enrollment process has proven to be effective for current application volumes, resources and departments may become overwhelmed with increased penetration. RPU can improve their scalability by providing more online information for customers and contractors, as well as improving their application tracking practices
RPU’s roadmap goals can be viewed on the National Solar Roadmap website.
Alliant Energy (Wisconsin Power and Light)
Based on the Wisconsin Public Service Commission guidelines, Alliant Energy has a tailored process for handling interconnection applications in Wisconsin. The staff is well-trained and able to handle the current volume of applications. They are also proactively adopting digital tools to help streamline the process, which will prepare them for expected increases in application numbers.
Since Alliant Energy is a large investor owned utility, it receives dozens of applications every year. Falling equipment prices, anticipated increases in energy rates, and changes in legislation all indicate that rooftop solar penetration will increase. Alliant Energy understands this and they are seizing the opportunity to proactively make some changes and stay ahead of customer demand. However, they have the opportunity to make additional changes to their process to reduce inefficiencies and improve the customer experience.
Alliant’s roadmap goals can be viewed on the National Solar Roadmap website.
ComEd is the largest electric utility in the state of Illinois. The Illinois Commerce Commission governs how ComEd administers distributed generation (DG) applications. These rules dictate many aspects of the interconnection process, including the application form, fees, and review guidelines. ComEd has a thorough understanding of their responsibilities as a regulated utility and the need for a team structure and sophisticated application tool to handle the volume of applications received. The legislative rules can be limiting – they require that utilities have a single point of contact for applications, and that some aspects of the process, such as the layout of the application form, follow a specific format. However, these rules can be advantageous, as they also provide a clear delineation of responsibilities between the utility, contractor/installer, and customer, which allows employees to focus on necessary tasks.
Application volumes are expected to increase in the coming years as technology improvements make the equipment cheaper and storage becomes economically viable. Expected changes to the federal income tax credit rules are also expected to lead to an increase in applications. ComEd has adopted a customized online application tool, which helps reduce time, improve customer satisfaction, and maintain scalability during the solar enrollment process. ComEd also allows application forms to be submitted by contractors on behalf of customers, which helps to improve the quality of submitted applications. While ComEd has some process in place to support their large application volumes, they have opportunities to improve quality of applications received by training contractors and creating an online checklist of requirements, and an opportunity to better manage the application process by growing their interconnection team and creating a database of existing DG systems.
ComEd’s roadmap goals can be viewed on the National Solar Roadmap website.