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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has adopted a substantial revision to Rule 21 (9.13.12), the state interconnection procedures. According to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), the change establishes several new national best practices, and removes barriers to continued growth of the state's renewable energy market.

The product of a year-long process, the commission unanimously approved a settlement between the three major investor-owned utilities and 11 other stakeholders, including IREC. The settlement puts in place new procedures through changes to Rule 21.

The new Rule 21 adopts a modified screening mechanism that, according to IREC, more effectively sorts applicants into a study path that corresponds to the level of review necessary for the project. The new multi-tiered study process is expected to allow the state to safely and reliably move toward higher penetrations of renewables while still processing applications efficiently.

Specifically, the revised procedures drastically improve the clarity of the supplemental review process by adding precise screens and including concrete timelines for review completion. The procedures retain the 15%-of-peak-load penetration screen in the initial fast-track review process, but under supplemental review, the utilities will apply an improved 100%-of-minimum-load threshold.

The adoption of this improved penetration-based screen is a significant achievement for solar projects because it is more relevant and less conservative than the 15% of peak load screen, IREC adds. The supplemental review screen looks at minimum load measured during the daytime, when solar systems are actually generating power.

Responding to applicant concerns about the lack of transparency in the process, the revised rules add clearer timelines, more explanation of the technical standards, and offer a pre-application report that can help applicants screen possible project locations prior to submitting an interconnection request.

The revisions to Rule 21 are also significant for transmission-dependent projects that need to be studied in conjunction with projects proceeding under the federally regulated tariffs of the utilities and the California Independent System Operator. Numerous wholesale distributed generation projects in Southern California Edison's territory had been stuck in a seemingly never-ending study cycle due to these dependencies. IREC predicts that these improved procedures will provide those projects with a path forward, as well as reduce the extensive study queues found in some areas.

"This ruling is of national interest," says IREC Executive Director Jane Weissman. "Regulatory successes like this in one state provide replicable examples for other states, providing the foundation for a robust clean energy industry in the public's best interest."




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