Interconnection Reform Clears the Way for Californians to Go Solar


Interconnection standards are the legal rules and procedures for “plugging” a renewable energy system into the power grid. With oversight from their regulators, utilities have traditionally determined which systems may connect to the grid and how arduous that process is. As you can imagine, interconnection standards that are unclear, full of unecessary steps, or non-transparent can result in a costly headache for rooftop solar – sometimes to the point where it makes a solar investment unviable altogether.

It’s incredibly technical, but incredibly important for empowering people to generate their own power. And so interconnection rules are one of our policy priorities at Vote Solar. And we’ve got progress to report! . . .

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has approved a major upgrade to the state’s interconnection rules for rooftop and small-scale solar projects: known in regulatory circles as “Rule 21.” The upgrade came about through over a year of negotiations between California’s three big utilities (PG&E, SCE, SDG&E), and a number of diverse stakeholders, including Vote Solar and our allies.

We’re proud to have played an instrumental role in the settlement process. You’ll find the CPUC’s final decision here if you want to dive deep, otherwise here are the cliffs notes version:

California is one of the nation’s thriving distributed PV markets, with over 1 gigawatt of rooftop solar installed – more than many countries. But as rooftop solar has made up an increasing share of the overall resource mix, it had become increasingly challenging for small solar energy systems to qualify for expedited interconnection. Instead, they were either proceeded to a supplemental review that was heavily dependent on utility discretion or faced a lengthy, costly and potentially unnecessary full study process. This delay could in turn cause queuing issues for other distributed energy projects as well. All in all, it wasn’t good for keeping Californians going solar.

The CPUC’s decision authorizes key reforms to make Rule 21 more inclusive, predictably and transparent:

Expansion of solar projects eligible for “Fast Track” interconnection;

Clearer explanations of technical standards;

Stricter timelines and procedural remedies to correct utility non-compliance; and

Availability of pre-application reports and application queues.

All of which makes more solar easier while still protecting the safety and reliability of the grid. But we’re not done yet!

The CPUC approved Vote Solar’s proposal for a second phase of Rule 21, which is now officially underway. This Phase 2 will address these equally if not more critical issues:

Cost responsibility;

Further expansion of eligible “Fast Track” projects;

Upgrades to allow more distributed and solar projects;

Standardization of business and technical issues.

The CPUC scoping memo authorizing Phase 2 is found here (PDF).

The successful adoption of the recent Rule 21 upgrades, along with the promise of the recently initiated Phase 2 means good things for solar.

Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.